Keep vs. Maintain

What's the Difference?

Keep and maintain are two verbs that are often used interchangeably, but they have slightly different meanings. Keep refers to the act of retaining or holding onto something, while maintain implies the continuous effort to preserve or sustain something in a particular state or condition. For example, you can keep a book on your shelf, meaning you have it in your possession, but to maintain a bookshelf means to regularly clean and organize it to ensure its proper functioning. In essence, keeping something implies ownership or possession, while maintaining something suggests taking care of it to ensure its longevity or functionality.


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DefinitionRetain possession or control ofPreserve or retain in its existing state
DurationIndefinite or for a specific periodOngoing or periodic
EffortMay require effort to acquire or obtainRequires effort to sustain or uphold
ResponsibilityPrimarily lies with the owner or possessorPrimarily lies with the caretaker or maintainer
ConditionFocuses on the state of possessionFocuses on the state of preservation
ChangeMay involve change or alterationMay involve maintenance or prevention of change
ResourcesMay require resources to acquire or obtainRequires resources to sustain or uphold
GoalTo retain or hold on to somethingTo preserve or keep in a desired state
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Further Detail


When it comes to managing and preserving something, two commonly used words are "keep" and "maintain." While they may seem similar at first glance, there are distinct differences in their attributes and implications. In this article, we will explore the nuances of these words and delve into their various applications.

Definition and Usage

Starting with "keep," it refers to the act of retaining or holding onto something. It implies the action of not letting go or preserving an object, idea, or state. For example, you can keep a possession, keep a secret, or keep a promise. "Maintain," on the other hand, means to sustain or uphold something in a particular condition. It involves taking necessary actions to prevent deterioration or decay. You maintain a garden, maintain a machine, or maintain good health.

Physical Objects

When it comes to physical objects, "keep" suggests the act of possessing or retaining something. For instance, you keep a book on your shelf or keep a collection of stamps. It emphasizes ownership and the act of not losing or misplacing an item. On the other hand, "maintain" focuses on the actions required to preserve the physical object's condition. You maintain a car by regularly servicing it or maintain a house by performing repairs and upkeep.

Emotional and Mental States

In terms of emotional and mental states, "keep" is often associated with maintaining a particular feeling or attitude. For example, you can keep calm during a stressful situation or keep a positive mindset. It emphasizes the act of preserving a state of mind. Conversely, "maintain" in this context refers to the actions taken to sustain emotional or mental well-being. You maintain a healthy work-life balance or maintain a positive outlook through self-care practices.

Commitments and Promises

When it comes to commitments and promises, "keep" implies the act of fulfilling or honoring them. You keep a promise to a friend or keep a commitment to attend an event. It emphasizes the importance of staying true to your word. On the other hand, "maintain" in this context suggests the effort required to sustain the commitment or promise over time. You maintain a long-term relationship by investing time and effort or maintain a consistent level of performance in your work.

Lists and Inventories

In the context of lists and inventories, "keep" refers to the act of retaining or preserving a record. You keep a list of groceries or keep an inventory of supplies. It emphasizes the action of not losing or misplacing the items on the list. Conversely, "maintain" in this context implies the ongoing effort to update and manage the list or inventory. You maintain an accurate stock inventory by regularly updating it or maintain an organized to-do list by adding and prioritizing tasks.


While "keep" and "maintain" share some similarities in their general meanings, they have distinct attributes and implications in various contexts. "Keep" emphasizes the act of retaining or possessing something, while "maintain" focuses on the actions required to sustain or uphold a particular condition. Understanding these differences can help us use these words more accurately and effectively in our daily lives.

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