v. kept, keep·ing, keeps
1. To retain possession of: kept the change; must keep your composure.
2. To have as a supply: keep spare parts in case of emergency.
a. To provide (a family, for example) with maintenance and support: "There's little to earn and many to keep" (Charles Kingsley).
b. To support (a mistress or lover) financially.
4. To put customarily; store: Where do you keep your saw?
a. To supply with room and board for a charge: keep boarders.
b. To raise: keep chickens.
6. To maintain for use or service: an urbanite who didn't keep a car.
7. To manage, tend, or have charge of: Keep the shop while I'm away.
8. To preserve (food).
9. To cause to continue in a state, condition, or course of action: tried to keep the patient calm.
a. To maintain records or entries in: keep a yearly diary.
b. To enter (data) in a book: keep financial records.
a. To detain: was kept after school.
b. To restrain: kept the child away from the stove; kept the crowd back with barriers.
c. To prevent or deter: tried to keep the ice from melting.
d. To refrain from divulging: keep a secret.
e. To save; reserve: keep extra money for emergencies.
12. To adhere or conform to; follow: keep late hours.
13. To be faithful to; fulfill: keep one's word.
14. To celebrate; observe: keep the Sabbath.
1. To remain in a state or condition; stay: keep in line; keep quiet; kept well.
2. To continue to do: keep on talking; keep guessing.
3. To remain fresh or unspoiled: The dessert won't keep.
4. To restrain oneself; hold oneself back: I couldn't keep from eavesdropping.
1. Care; charge: The child is in my keep for the day.
2. The means by which one is supported: earn one's keep.
a. The stronghold of a castle.
b. A jail.
To persevere in work or an action.
1. To prevent from growing, accomplishing, or succeeding: keep the revolutionaries down.
2. To hold under control or at a reduced level: Keep your voice down.
3. To refrain from vomiting: Although seasick, I managed to keep my food down.
To stay away from.
To adhere to: keep to the original purpose.
1. To maintain in good condition: kept up the property.
2. To persevere in; carry on: We asked her to stop talking, but she kept it up. To preserve or sustain: kept up the appearance of friendship.
3. To continue at the same level or pace: The snow kept up all day.
4. To continue to pay off (a financial obligation).
5. To match one's competitors, colleagues, or neighbors in success or lifestyle: couldn't keep up with his friends who went into business.
6. To remain adequately informed: loved to keep up on the gossip.
1. For an indefinitely long period: gave the ring to me for keeps.
2. Seriously and permanently: We're separating for keeps.
keep an eye on
1. To watch over attentively; mind.
2. To watch closely or carefully: keep your eye on the ball.
keep an eye out
To be watchful.
keep a stiff upper lip
To be courageous or stoic in the face of adversity.
1. To carry on a courtship: a couple who kept company but never married.
2. To socialize or associate: keeps company with some tough thugs.
keep (one's) chin up
To be stalwart, courageous, or optimistic in the face of difficulty.
keep (one's) eyes open/peeled
To be on the lookout.
keep (one's) nose clean Informal
To stay out of trouble.
To stay even with others, as in a contest.
keep (someone) company
To accompany or remain with.
keep the wolf from the door
To avoid the privation and suffering resulting from a lack of money: Both spouses had to work in order to keep the wolf from the door.
1. To indicate the correct time.
2. Music To maintain the tempo or rhythm.
keep to (oneself)
1. To shun the company of others: She kept to herself all morning.
2. To refrain from divulging: He kept the news to himself.
[Middle English kepen, from Old English cēpan, to observe, seize.]
Synonyms: keep, retain, withhold, reserve
These verbs mean to have and maintain in one's possession or control. Keep is the most general: We received a few offers but decided to keep the house. Retain means to continue to hold, especially in the face of possible loss: Though unhappy, he retained his sense of humor. Withhold implies reluctance or refusal to give, grant, or allow: The tenant withheld his rent until the owner fixed the boiler. To reserve is to hold back for the future or for a special purpose: The farmer reserved two acres for an orchard. See Also Synonyms at observe.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.