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Is It “Grabbed Hold” or “Grabbed Ahold”?

You’re telling a riveting story about how you rescued a cat from a tree. As you get to the best part, you’re suddenly unsure of yourself. Should you say you “grabbed hold” or “grabbed ahold” of the cat?

“Grabbed hold” is the correct wording for this phrase. The word “ahold” is actually an informal usage and should not be a part of your working vocabulary. If you grab something, then you are holding it. So you will use “grab hold” in this situation rather than “grab ahold.”

Many English speakers use the phrase “grabbed ahold” incorrectly. Here, we will discuss the grammar rules governing this phrase and talk about alternative phrases you can use. In addition, we’ll give you an overview of how to use “grabbed hold” and other idioms and discuss formal and informal English.

Is It Grammatically Correct to Say “Grabbed Ahold”?

It is not grammatically correct to say “grabbed ahold” in a formal context. “Ahold” is the informal form of the noun “hold.” If you are speaking informally, you may use “ahold,” but in formal speech and in most writing, you should use “grabbed hold.”

The differences between formal and informal English can seem subtle to a non-native English speaker. Additionally, the “rules” governing formal and informal usage exist on a spectrum (source).

In some situations, you may be able to use contractions, while you can not use other informal forms. In other circumstances, it is important to follow every formal usage to the letter. 

As far as “grabbed hold” is concerned, it would be best if you made this form the default in your brain. This will help you avoid using the wrong form in the wrong context.

What Does “Grabbed Hold” Mean?

When someone says they have “grabbed hold” of something, they usually mean that they have taken hold of it, or grabbed onto it, either literally or figuratively. “Ahold” means the same as “hold” (source). So a person could “grab ahold” of something in a less formal context.

Examples of this phrase include the following:

  • The author grabbed hold of my attention from the first chapter.
  • As the rope swung near, I hollered, “Grab hold!”
  • He breathlessly continued the story, “So I grabbed ahold and held on!” (informal)

How Do You Use “Grabbed Hold”?

You can use “grabbed hold” in various contexts to show possession of something, someone, or even an idea. For example, one can grab hold of his emotions, a friend’s arm, or your attention.

One can also be grabbed hold of by a scintillating read or by an influencer. “Grabbed hold” is a versatile phrase, and the limitation of its use is only the extent of your creativity.

It is best to use “grabbed hold” in place of an intransitive verb and add “of” to complete the phrase. Do not use this phrase to replace a noun or a transitive verb. 

Prepositional phrases or adverbs often follow intransitive verbs. For instance, the sentence “He grabbed hold of her arm” uses “grabbed hold” as a transitive verb plus noun combination. 

You would not replace a transitive verb with this phrase. For instance, if the original sentence was “She took the receipt to the clerk,” you could not say, “She grabbed hold the receipt.” Instead, you would have to change the format of the sentence, which often changes the meaning, if only slightly.

In general, transitive verbs “transfer” the action from the subject to the direct object, regardless of any intervening phrases, clauses, or indirect objects. This is why “grabbed” is a transitive verb, transferring the action (grab) from the subject to the thing grabbed. 

The phrase “grabbed hold of” can only replace a transitive verb and its direct object or an intransitive verb. 

“She gripped her friend’s arm” has a subject, transitive verb, and direct object. When we change it to “She grabbed hold of her friend’s arm,” it now has a subject, a transitive verb, and an object of the preposition “of.”

In the sentence “She grabbed at the rope,” the intransitive verb “grabbed” becomes “grabbed hold.” Therefore, the new sentence, “She grabbed hold of the rope,” contains a subject, a transitive verb, and an object of the preposition.

man pulling gray rope
Image by Stijn Swinnen via Unsplash

When Can You Use “Grabbed Hold”?

You can use “grabbed hold” as a verb when you’re talking about something you have grabbed onto or taken hold of. Because it’s in the past tense, you would use “grabbed hold” when the action is already completed. The present tense would be “grab hold.”

“Grab” is a regular verb, meaning that the past tense is “grabbed,” and the future tense is simply “will grab.” Regular verbs have a consistent format, such as doubling the consonant and adding -ed for the past tense. We also discuss regular verbs in the article “What Happen or What Happened? Understanding Grammar and Usage.

The fact that “grab” is a regular verb makes it easy to relate the phrase “grabbed hold” to the exact context you need when you communicate. You can even use this phrase in a future context by saying “will grab hold” or the future perfect “will have grabbed hold.” 

Just be careful not to use the informal “ahold” unless the social context is appropriate.

In What Context Can You Use “Grabbed Hold”?

We can use the phrase “grabbed hold” in various contexts. It can function both literally, as in grabbing hold of something tangible, or idiomatically, as in grabbing someone’s attention or grabbing for power.

For example, “grab hold” can mean to literally take something or someone in your hands, as in “Grab hold of that rope!” 

In contrast, as an idiom, it can also mean to gain control of, as in emotions or influence. “I grabbed hold of my fear and stuffed it deep inside” is an example of grabbing hold of emotions. 

Similarly, “The lobbyists have clearly grabbed hold of a majority of the senators’ votes” shows how to use this phrase to refer to influence. 

The phrase can also apply when something has taken control of your imagination or interest. An example is “Her books grab hold of me and don’t let go until the last chapter.” Each of these contexts uses the more grammatically correct “grab hold” instead of the less formal “grab ahold” (source). 

The most likely context for the less formal “grab ahold” would be in oral storytelling between friends, such as “I grabbed ahold of that thing like my life depended on it!”

Using “Grabbed Hold” in a Full Sentence

Any sentence in which you refer to the influence or power one thing or person has over another thing or person is a great place to try this phrase. For example, in American English, we often use “grabbed hold” to refer to something that we may do either against our will or at least without our intention.

“Grabbed hold” does not have to be confusing to use in a sentence. Many contexts lend themselves to the use of this phrase. 

A book may “grab hold” of us by attracting our attention so completely that we don’t want to stop reading till the very end. Alternatively, a friend may “grab hold” of me at the top of a roller coaster because she is exhilarated or afraid. Each of these situations shows the power of the book or the friend in a positive but unplanned way.

Positive usages of this phrase include:

  • The title of the article grabbed hold of my attention.
  • She grabbed hold of my arm and squealed in delight!
  • “Quick!” the boy shouted as he tossed the rope. “Grab hold!”

Conversely, an abusive friend or partner may “grab hold” of your arm and keep you in a place against your will. Or an evil element could “grab hold” of the votes or opinions of a large group of people, changing the organization’s trajectory. Both of these examples show “grabbed hold” in a negative context.

Negative usages of this phrase include:

They realized the battle was futile after the leadership had grabbed hold of a majority of the shareholders’ votes.

When I tell him “No!” he grabs hold of my arm and twists it painfully.

If he could have, he would have grabbed hold of her and kept her with him.

When Not to Use “Grabbed Hold”

You should not use “grabbed hold” idiomatically if the sentence does not refer to influence, control, or emotion. Even when using it literally, we tend to consider “grabbed” as harsh. It can even carry the meaning of immaturity, ingratitude, or anger, as in “The toddler grabbed three cookies and ran away.”

If your sentence speaks of someone handling a sensitive item or handling something with love, you would be less likely to use “grab” instead of a different verb. For instance, “The mother lovingly held the infant” or “I clutched his hand as traffic whizzed past.”

The connotation in these sentences is of holding tightly to something out of concern or love. If I said, “The mother grabbed the infant” or “I grabbed his hand,” this would slightly alter the meaning.

What Can You Use Instead of “Grabbed Hold”?

You can use parts of the phrase “grabbed hold,” replacing one word, as in “took hold of” or “grabbed onto,” to show almost the same meaning but spice up your writing a bit. Alternatively, you can use completely different verbs that have similar meanings, such as “picked up,” “grasped,” “snatched,” or “took.”

Again, it is best to limit “grabbed hold” to connotations where someone or something holds another against their will, whether positive (as by a book or by a friend) or negative (as in abuse, influence, or power). The English language contains many verbs that show the intricacies of meaning within these contexts.

Here are several examples of similar usages with the phrase “grabbed hold” replaced:

  • I picked up the shoes and put them away.
  • I took hold of my courage and pulled the lever.
  • He grabbed onto his friend, whispering, “Did you hear that?”
  • Her misinformation campaign has helped her seize control of the majority.
  • They grasped at the air as they fell.
  • He took me by the hand and led me back to the house.
woman and man holding hands
Image by Scott Broome via Unsplash

Formal vs. Informal English

So many opportunities exist for confusion between formal and informal English. Sometimes, even among friends, you’ll use more formal wording if you’re trying to represent yourself as an educated person (source).

Likewise, you can sometimes get away with informal usage, even among academic or work peers, if the situation allows. The most important deciding factor between formal and informal English should be your setting. 

Suppose you and some friends are laughing in someone’s home, eating nachos and watching a football game. In that case, you can probably use informal English, such as “grabbed ahold,” without damaging your academic reputation.

If you are at a holiday event with educational or work peers, you’ll want to maintain proper formal English even if everyone is having a good time. Letting informal wording slip could come back to haunt you when the next promotion is under consideration.

You want those around you to believe you know how to speak English correctly in any circumstance. This article was written for

For more on formal vs. informal expressions, check out “Is It Rude to Say ‘Have a Good One’?” and “Is It Correct to Say ‘Gotten’?

Final Thoughts

Remember, never use “grabbed ahold” in a formal setting. The grammatically correct phrase is “grabbed hold,” which you can use in a variety of contexts. Now you have a few alternative phrases you can use, as well. 

We’ve even practiced using “grabbed hold” in a complete sentence. You are well prepared to add this valuable phrase to your working language.

These tips should be helpful when you find yourself in the position to use a phrase such as “grab hold.” Remember to check your audience: is it a formal or an informal setting? Once you’ve decided on your setting, you’ll know whether to use “grabbed hold” or “grabbed ahold” in that situation.