Did you know?

Click any word in a definition or example to find the entry for that word

hold back - definition and synonyms


What are red words?

90% of the time, speakers of English use just 7,500 words in speech and writing. These words appear in red, and are graded with stars. One-star words are frequent, two-star words are more frequent, and three-star words are the most frequent.



The thesaurus of synonyms and related words is fully integrated into the dictionary. Click on the thesaurus category heading under the button in an entry to see the synonyms and related words for that meaning.

phrasal verb
Word Forms
present tense
I/you/we/theyhold back
he/she/itholds back
present participleholding back
past tenseheld back
past participleheld back
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  1. 1
    [transitive] to stop someone or something from moving forwards

    Ollie had to hold Tom back to prevent him retaliating.

    Her hair was held back by two clips.

  2. 2
    [transitive] to stop someone from being as successful as they should

    Her parents worried that her classmates were holding her back.

  3. 3
    [intransitive/transitive] to decide not to do or say something, or to make someone decide not to do or say something

    He held back, remembering the mistake he had made before.

  4. 4
    [transitive] to not show what you are thinking or feeling

    Joe held back his anger.

    She bit her lip to hold back the tears.

  5. 5
    [transitive] to not allow someone to have something, for example money

    They held back the final payment because they weren’t satisfied with the work.

See also main entry: hold

Open Dictionary


the activity of exploring abandoned buildings and other manmade structures

add a word


A must for anyone with an interest in the changing face of language. The Macmillan Dictionary blog explores English as it is spoken around the world today.

global English and language change from our blog
Macmillan learn live love play