Language Police: Hold out

When do you hold out, and when do you last? Come to think of it, when do you endure? And is it all the same in Chinese.

Mice: Give us the answer, Earthman, and we’ll make you a reasonably rich man.
Zaphod: Hey! We’re holding out for 'extremely rich.

Sounds good. We have the idea here of resistance, meeting some challenge, action.

How long can the beseiged Romans hold out against the Judean People’s Front?


Leo Sayer (was it?): It’s cold out, but hold out…

Again, don’t give up.

Hold out, to me, involves some volition or responding to a challenge - even if we’re dealing with an object:

There’s something wrong with the engine, but I think it will hold out until we get home.

Sounds good? You could probably use ‘last’ instead of hold out in this situation too. But what about this?

The water supply won’t hold out for a month.

This sounds wrong to me. We may not be able to hold out, if the water doesn’t last, but I don’t see the water as having any volition or purpose requiring it to ‘endure’. It simply ‘is’, it’s not doing.

It seems like you can often substitute ‘last’ in place of ‘hold out’, but not always, and is it appropriate to do it in the other direction?

Zaphod wouldn’t last for more money. The Romans might last. You can’t tell someone to last, can you? The engine may or may not last, the water ditto. But would you hope the water will hold out?

I think not. Water is passive. Holding out is active.

Energy is passive, so it lasts or doesn’t. Or am I making this up now?

Is it simply a case of countable vs uncountable?

Pedants please step forward and clarify this.

Also, does it really matter? I expect that in Chinese it all translates to the same word so the distinction will be meaningless to any student.


Newbie: I’m holdin out for a better contract.
Oldie: You won’t last a week with that attitude.

Hold out connotes that you are waiting for something better. Neither last nor endure seem to have that connotation.

You would “hold out for more money”, “hold out for a better deal”

Last could refer to objects as well as people. The toilet paper might last for another few days, but you wouldn’t think of the toilet paper as “holding out” or “holding on” for a few more days.

Endure can be a transitive verb. You can “endure something”, but would not “last something” or “hold out something” (unless you mean to physically extend something outwards).

I think the Chinese will reflect these differences. But I’d have to refer you to a native since my sense of these words in Chinese isn’t good enough to explain them or distinguish between their meanings all that well.

In the States right now, I do hear people saying “The [insert inanimate object of which one has a supply here] won’t hold out two months, you know,” and similar.

I think the rule is probably something like: if the agent is a person or something with will, you must use “hold out” if an effort is involved, and “last” if not. Note that you could say, “You won’t last a month with that attitude” OR “You won’t be able to hold out a month with that attitude,” and the meanings are very similar, but to me a little bit different.

For inanimate “agents” (such as when you’re talking about the supply of something) it seems to me that it doesn’t matter either way, although I think “last” is more common than “hold out”. It might be an expression in transition.

Just my NT$0.66, your mileage may vary.