Understanding the Idiom: "keep company" - Meaning, Origins, and Usage

Idiom language: English

What does “keep company” mean?

The phrase “keep company” means to spend time with someone or be in a romantic relationship with them. It can also refer to having regular interactions with someone, either as friends or colleagues. The term has been around for centuries and is still commonly used today.

Examples of using “keep company”

  • He’s been keeping her company since she broke up with her boyfriend.
  • I enjoy keeping company with people who share my interests.
  • The old man was happy to have his dog keep him company during his final days.

In these examples, you can see how the idiom is used in different situations. It could refer to spending time together after a breakup, enjoying the presence of like-minded individuals, or finding comfort in companionship during difficult times.

Origins and Historical Context of the Idiom “keep company”

The idiom “keep company” is a common expression in the English language that refers to spending time with someone regularly, often implying a romantic relationship. The origins of this phrase are not entirely clear, but it has been used for centuries in literature and everyday speech.

One possible explanation for the origin of this idiom comes from medieval times when people would refer to their social status as being part of a particular “company.” Members of these groups would spend time together, often engaging in activities such as hunting or feasting. Over time, the term “keeping company” came to mean spending time with someone regularly.

Another theory suggests that the phrase may have originated from religious texts where it was used to describe keeping close companionship with God or other spiritual figures. This idea evolved over time to include relationships between humans as well.

Regardless of its exact origins, the idiom “keep company” has been used throughout history in various forms. In Shakespeare’s play Othello, one character warns another about his wife’s behavior by saying: “Look to your wife; observe her well with Cassio; / Wear your eye thus: not jealous nor secure.” Here, he uses the phrase “observe her well with Cassio” to imply that she is keeping company with him too closely.

In modern times, this idiom is still commonly used in both casual conversation and formal writing. It can be found in everything from novels and poetry to news articles and advertisements.

Usage and Variations of the Idiom “keep company”

When it comes to idioms, there are often variations in usage that can make them even more interesting. The idiom “keep company” is no exception. While the basic meaning of the phrase remains consistent across different contexts, there are a number of ways in which it can be used and modified depending on the situation.

One common variation of “keep company” involves adding an adjective before the word “company”. For example, someone might say “I don’t like to keep bad company”, meaning they prefer not to spend time with people who have a negative influence or reputation. Similarly, one could say they enjoy keeping good company when referring to spending time with people they admire or respect.

Another way in which this idiom can be modified is by changing the verb that follows it. For instance, instead of saying “I kept him company while he waited for his appointment”, one could use phrases like “I was keeping her company during her long flight” or “We’ll keep each other’s company on our hike”.

In some cases, this idiom may also be used metaphorically rather than literally. For example, someone might say they keep their books as their only companions when they feel lonely or isolated.

Synonyms, Antonyms, and Cultural Insights for the Idiom “keep company”


Some common synonyms for “keep company” include:

  • Hang out with
  • Be friends with
  • Date
  • Court
  • Pursue a relationship with
  • Go steady with

Each of these phrases conveys a slightly different nuance or level of formality. For example, “hang out with” is more casual than “date,” which implies some level of romantic interest.


On the other hand, antonyms for “keep company” might include:

  • Avoid/ignore someone
  • Break up/divorce/separate from
  • Distract oneself from
  • Fight/disagree

These words represent actions that would indicate an end to a relationship or a lack of interest in spending time together.

Cultural Insights:

The phrase “keep company” has been used since at least the 16th century and was originally associated more closely with courtship rituals than general socializing. In modern times, it can be used in both contexts but still carries some connotations of romance or intimacy. It’s worth noting that different cultures may have their own idioms or expressions for similar concepts; for example, Spanish speakers might use the phrase estar saliendo (literally “to be going out”) instead of “keep company.”

Practical Exercises for the Idiom “keep company”

In order to fully grasp the meaning of the idiom “keep company”, it is important to practice using it in various contexts. The following exercises will help you become more familiar with this expression and its usage.

Exercise 1: Write a short story or dialogue that includes the phrase “keep company”. Try to use it in a way that conveys a sense of companionship or friendship between two people.

Exercise 2: Create a list of synonyms for “keep company”. This will help you understand how this idiom can be used interchangeably with other expressions that convey similar meanings.

Exercise 3: Watch a movie or TV show and identify any instances where the characters use the phrase “keep company”. Pay attention to how it is used and what context it is used in.

Exercise 4: Use the idiom “keep company” in your daily conversations. Practice incorporating it into your speech so that you become more comfortable using it naturally.

By practicing these exercises, you will gain a better understanding of how to use the idiom “keep company” effectively in both written and spoken English.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using the Idiom “keep company”

When using idioms, it is important to understand their meanings and usage in order to avoid making mistakes. The idiom “keep company” is no exception. Here are some common mistakes to avoid when using this idiom:

Avoid Taking the Idiom Literally

The idiom “keep company” does not mean physically keeping someone or something with you at all times. It means spending time with someone or being associated with a particular group or organization.

Avoid Confusing It With Other Idioms

The phrase “keep company” should not be confused with other similar idioms such as “keep an eye on” or “keep up with”. Each of these phrases has its own unique meaning and usage.

  • Keep an eye on: To watch over or monitor something/someone closely
  • Keep up with: To stay informed about current events or trends

To use the idiom “keep company” correctly, it’s important to understand its specific meaning and context. By avoiding these common mistakes, you can ensure that your communication is clear and effective.

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