Ahold or A Hold – What’s the Difference?

Even subtle differences between words and phrases can mean the difference between precise writing and embarrassing spelling mistakes. Sometimes, these differences boil down to the placement of a simple space.

While ahold is a familiar word, some writers separate this adverb into two words. Likewise, the word hold has many uses besides as an adverb. If you find these differences confusing, continue reading for an explanation of the appropriate contexts for each.

What is the Difference Between Ahold and A Hold?

In this post, I will compare ahold vs. a hold. I will use each of these terms in an example sentence, so that you can see what they look like in context.

Plus, I will demonstrate the use of a mnemonic device that will help you choose either ahold or a hold when you write.

When to Use Ahold

Definition of a hold definition and definition of ahold definition What does ahold mean? Ahold functions as an adverb. It means roughly the same as hold in this sense; namely, it modifies a verb like get to imply possession, ownership, or contact.

Here are some examples,

  • “Camilla, will you get ahold of Susan and ask her why on earth our supply order hasn’t been delivered yet?” asked Jermaine.
  • Asher got ahold of some drugs, and used them all without sharing with Amanda.
  • Morels are difficult to get ahold of, but they are so delicious that procuring them is worth almost any amount of effort.

Ahold is used primarily in America, and it is done so in informal contexts. You will want to avoid its use in professional and formal writing, as it is sometimes considered a spelling error.

Most British dictionaries will not list the word; some American dictionaries will list it, others won’t.

When to Use A Hold

Define a hold and define ahold What does a hold mean? A hold is a phrase, consisting of the indefinite article a and the noun hold, with hold meaning a method of restraint or blockage.

Here are some examples,

  • The skilled martial artist employed a hold to keep her opponent from escaping while she punched him.
  • Callie’s bank placed a hold on her money, which she found annoying.
  • Gregorius found a hold on the face of the cliff and swung himself up over the edge.
  • A Thai crocodile trainer has amazingly escaped serious injury after a three metre man-eater grabbed a hold of his arm and performed a ‘death roll’. –Daily Mail

When to Use Hold

The construction used more frequently than both of the above constructions is to get hold of. This construction is simpler and is used much more frequently than either of the above constructions.

For example,

  • If you can’t get hold of me, send Jason a text message.
  • I tried calling three times, but I can’t get hold of him.
  • Climbing the mountain, I found it hard to get a firm hold.

Trick to Remember the Difference

Both get ahold and get a hold of are rarely used when compared to the simpler get hold of. A general rule of writing is to keep things simple rather than complex. In this case, that general rule seems to be on display.

Ahold is an informal world that is rarely used and shunned in professional writing. In his book Garner’s Modern English Usage, Bryan Garner put the ratio of get hold vs. get ahold at 18:1, respectively. In other words, you should probably avoid that construction.

To get a hold of is used at a similarly low level (see below).

ahold versus a hold

As this chart shows, the simple word hold is used much more frequently and should be your preferred choice, which makes it easy to remember a hold vs. ahold.

In constructions like get hold, you can easily avoid a hold and ahold in favor of the simpler hold. Sometimes, however, a hold is necessary.

For example, in our example from above,

  • Callie’s bank placed a hold on her money, which she found annoying.

You would not be able to say “Callie’s bank placed hold on her money…”


Is it a hold or ahold? As the above distinctions prove, the subtleties that are a hallmark of English usage can be confusing.

  • Ahold is an informal adverb that modifies a verb to show possession or contact.
  • A hold is a phrase consisting of an indefinite article and a noun.
  • Both should be avoided when hold is easily used instead.

You can always check this site any time you have questions about word use or other writing topics.