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Idioms about keep

Origin of keep

First recorded before 1000; Middle English kepen, Old English cēpan “to observe, heed, watch, await, take”; perhaps akin to Old English gecōp “proper, fitting,” capian “to look,” Old Norse kōpa “to stare”

synonym study for keep

1. Keep, reserve, retain, withhold refer to having and holding in possession. Keep (a common word) and retain (a more formal one) agree in meaning to continue to have or hold, as opposed to losing, parting with, or giving up: to keep a book for a week. To reserve is to keep for some future use, occasion, or recipient, or to hold back for a time: to reserve judgment. To withhold is generally to hold back altogether: to withhold help.


keep·a·ble, adjectivekeep·a·bil·i·ty, noun
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022


What is a basic definition of keep?

Keep means to hold on to something and not let it leave your possession. Keep can also mean to store something in a certain place. And keep can mean to continue an action or to remain in a certain state. Keep has many other senses as a verb and a few as a noun and is used in a large number of idioms.

If you keep something, it means that you are making sure it stays yours and doesn’t leave your possession. For example, if you don’t give money to someone, then you are keeping it. The past tense of keep is kept.

  • Real-life examples: Most people prefer to keep money rather than give it away or spend it. If a childhood toy means a lot to you, you probably want to keep it and not throw it away. If nobody claims a lost item, then the store or police will usually let the finder keep it.
  • Used in a sentence: I’m going to keep this old hat I found rather than throw it away. 

Keep can also mean to store something in a certain area.

  • Real-life examples: Almost everyone keeps perishable food in a refrigerator. You might keep your clothes on the floor, although your mom wants them in a dresser. People keep money in a safe or bank account. The police keep prisoners in jail.
  • Used in a sentence: Aylia keeps her priceless jewelry in a lockbox.

Keep is also used to mean to continue doing something. This sense of keep usually implies that the action will never stop until something else happens. For example, a leaky sink will keep, that is, continue, dripping until someone fixes it.

  • Real-life examples: A business will keep making money as long as it can. Most pets will keep staring at you until you either finish eating or give them some food. The moon will keep rotating around Earth unless something stops it.
  • Used in a sentence: Sasha is persistent and will keep hitting that piñata until candy comes out. 

In a similar sense, keep can also mean to remain in a certain state or condition.

  • Real-life examples: People store ice cream in a freezer so it keeps cold. Most people find it hard to keep calm during a crisis. People wear jackets or use umbrellas to keep dry during a rainstorm.
  • Used in a sentence: The men gathered around the fire to keep warm.

Where does keep come from?

The first records of keep come from before the year 1000. It ultimately comes from the Old English verb cēpan, meaning “to observe.”

Did you know … ?

What are some other forms related to keep?

  • keepable (adjective)
  • keepability (noun)

What are some synonyms for keep?

What are some words that share a root or word element with keep

What are some words that often get used in discussing keep?

How is keep used in real life?

Keep is an extremely common word that is often used to mean to hold on to something or to continue to do something.

Try using keep!

Is keep used correctly in the following sentence?

I keep a spare tire in the trunk of my car in case I ever need one.

How to use keep in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for keep

/ (kiːp) /

verb keeps, keeping or kept (kɛpt)

Word Origin for keep

Old English cēpan to observe; compare Old Saxon kapōn to look, Old Norse kōpa to stare
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Other Idioms and Phrases with keep


The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.