General Writing and Grammar Help/Get a hold on someone


Dear Ted:

What does "to get a hold on someone" mean?

Would you please give me some examples?

Also, is it possible "to get a hold on SOMETHING"?

Many, many thanks for your kind help.


Dear Paolo:
What does "to get a hold on someone" mean?

***It means that one person has another person under control.  Think of a puppeteer who controls his puppets by pulling strings.  The puppeteer has a hold on his puppets.

"You've Really Got a Hold on Me" is a song written by Smokey Robinson which became a 1962 Top 10 hit single for the Miracles on the Tamla (Motown) label. One of the Miracles' most covered tunes, this million-selling song received a 1998 Grammy Hall of Fame Award. It has also been selected as one of the The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. It was covered by the Beatles on their second album, With The Beatles.

Also, is it possible "to get a hold on SOMETHING"?

*** This wording means that you understand something.  I finally got a hold on the geometry
problem.  An alternative phrase that is often used is "have a HANDLE on something."

*** From an internet English forum:

I agree with the meaning of "to have a hold on" someone. It means you have some means to control them, some way to get them to do what you want.

But to "have a handle on" can also mean to have an understanding, or a key that will help you understand.

"I'm beginning to have a handle on him" = I'm starting to understand him. I might also say "I'm beginning to get a handle on this" meaning I have a problem that I'm figuring out how to solve.

If I said "Yes, I've got a handle on that" I would mean that it was a problem I was confident I could solve.

*** Paolo, these are idiomatic phrases.  In "regular" English, we would say, "I understand the problem."  The idiomatic expression is "I need to get a hold on the problem."


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Ted Nesbitt


I am the bibliographic instruction and reference librarian at a public college. Some members of the English department recommend me to their students. I offer assistance in grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, and paragraph development. My master`s thesis concerns William Faulkner`s tragic novels. I formerly taught advanced placement English at two schools in the Philadelphia area.


I have been one of the highest-ranked volunteers in this category for more than a decade.

B. A. and M. A in English; MSIS in Library & Information Sciences; graduate study in philosophy

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