Hang in there: What’s it mean and when should you use it?

What Does Hang in There Mean?

Has someone ever told you to hang in there? Did you know what they meant? If not, this article will help you understand this common saying so that you can use it correctly yourself when speaking and writing.

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How to use “hang in there” in a sentence

Hang in is one of many phrasal verbs. This phrasal verb is most often used, however, as part of the full phrase hang in there. To understand the meaning of this slang, idiomatic expression (more on what these terms mean in a moment), let’s first look at the definition of hang:

  • to suspend, as from an elevated point without support from below; to hold in a suspended manner
  • to linger or persist
  • to hold onto for support, to cling
  • to maintain or continue holding a position

Knowing now how hang is defined, hang in and hang in there can then be understood to mean to remain persistent or determined, or to continue holding a position, even when faced with a difficult situation. To tell someone to hang in there is to tell them not to give up during a tough time. The saying serves to encourage them to keep going and to keep holding on in the face of adversity; to help them see that they can persevere no matter what is thrown their way. To hang in is to refuse to be intimidated or discouraged in trying times.

The phrase can be used in a variety of tenses, as hung in, hanging in, and hangs in, for instance.

Here are a few example sentences correctly illustrating the use of the phrase hang in there:

I know the divorce is difficult on you, Shiela, but hang in there; I promise things will get better.
Mary was having a problem with her coworker, but she loved her job so she hung in there and now they get along well.
The middle of the week is the busiest time, but hang in there, and it’ll slow down.
It was a long, difficult fight, but the boxer hung in there long enough to claim victory.

The Origins of the Phrase Hang in There

There isn’t a definite consensus on when the phrase was first used or in what context it was first used. Some experts believed it was originally used pre-1950 in competitive sports as an expression shouted for encouragement to team members. However, it most likely dates to the 1960s and 1970s and to a popular motivational poster that bore the phrase. The poster originally said Hang in there, baby! It featured a picture of a Siamese cat hanging onto a bamboo pole, its legs dangling down in the air, looking completely determined not to fall.

The photograph used for the poster was taken by Los Angeles photographer Victor Baldwin. He originally published the black and white cat image in a book. It quickly became the most popular photo in the book, with fans requesting copies of it, so he decided to turn it into a poster and chose the words Hang in there, baby! to accompany the image.

Many different versions of the poster have been printed since then, and the poster remains an important part of pop culture. Subsequent versions have featured different types of cats hanging onto tall trees or ropes, with the word baby often dropped from the text.

Synonyms for Hang in There

If you want to encourage someone not to give up during a tough time but don’t want to use the phrase hang in there, there are a variety of other related words and expressions you can use. A thesaurus will turn up other options in addition to the following synonyms and near synonyms (which have a similar, but not identical, meaning):

  • Be patient
  • Hold on / hold out
  • Grin and bear it
  • Stick in there / stick it out / stick with it
  • Tough it out
  • Withstand
  • Never say die
  • Cope with
  • Abide
  • Tolerate
  • Accept
  • Stomach
  • Put up with
  • Live with
  • Sit tight
  • Keep at it
  • Carry on
  • Keep going
  • Persevere
  • Persist / be persistent
  • See it through
  • Soldier on
  • Stay with it
  • Ride it out
  • See it through to the end
  • Continue
  • Don’t give up
  • Stay the course
  • Be diligent
  • Push on
  • Hold fast
  • Keep on
  • Stand your ground
  • Forge on
  • Keep driving
  • Press ahead
  • Keep on trucking


Hang On, Hang Tight, Hang Loose, and Hang Tough

There are many other sayings that also use the verb hang, some with similar and some with very different meanings than hang in and hang in there. Let’s explore these other common phrases.

Hang on. This phrase can have a variety of meanings:

  • To grip onto or hold something tightly. Example sentence: Please hang on my arm for support while we go down the stairs.
  • To stop or wait briefly. Example sentence: Hang on a minute, Bill, I’ve got to stop to tie my shoe.
  • To be decided or determined by. Example sentence: Whether or not the bill will pass hangs on just one vote.

Hang tight. To tell someone to hang tight is to tell them to wait, usually a little longer than they would, before making a decision or completing an action. For example: The realtor told me to hang tight when it came to selling, and that housing prices would rebound next year.

Hang loose. To hang loose is to stay calm and remain relaxed. To tell someone to hang loose is to encourage them to take it easy, to not get too excited or worked up. For example: We’ll know our grades by the end of the day, Jim, just hang loose.

Hang tough. Hang tough is a synonym for hang in there. To tell someone to hang tough is to advise them to remain strong and to persevere in the face of adversity. For example: Hang tough, Mary, your house will be as good as new soon, and it’ll be like the flooding never happened.

Slang and Idiom Defined

Hang in there is considered a slang phrase. Slang is a very informal type of language. Typically, slang words and phrases are more commonly spoken than written, and they may be more commonly used by a particular group of people (such as teenagers) or in specific settings. In slang, words with one definition may be arbitrarily assigned a different definition. For example, tea is a slang word for gossip, and dough is a slang term for money.

The phrase hang in there is also an idiomatic phrase. An idiom is an expression that’s intended meaning can’t fully be deduced just by looking at the words that comprise it. These words and phrases have a figurative rather than literal meaning. Even if you’ve never heard the term idiom, you have most likely heard many idiomatic expressions. Here are just a few of the most common idioms used today:

You’re in hot water.
His boss gave him the ax.
It’s time to face the music.
You’ve hit the nail on the head.

If you took the first example literally, you’d think it was describing a person standing in a bathtub full of hot water, perhaps. But the expression is actually used to describe a person who’s in trouble. Likewise, rather than literally being handed a tool for chopping wood, if you get the ax from your boss, it means you’re getting fired. It’s time to face the music means that it’s time to come to terms with the consequences of your actions. And when someone has hit the nail on the head, they’ve gotten an answer exactly right or done something exactly as it should have been done.

Knowing the definition of idiom, you can see that telling someone to hang in there isn’t meant to be taken literally: You aren’t telling someone to actually hang onto something or hang in somewhere. You’re speaking to them figuratively, encouraging them to stick with it and not give up, no matter how difficult the circumstances.

Word Counter can help you understand the meaning behind many of today’s most common idiomatic phrases, like ignorance is bliss, money talks, ad nauseam, carte blanche, and more.

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