"Stay hungry" or "Keep hungry"?


If I had two choices, either to "Eat something" or "Stay/Keep hungry", when food is offered to me when I was in a state of hunger.

I want the phrase to be in the same format as "Eat something", I mean two words and in an order(verb) form.

I found out that "Stay hungry" is an idiom which means:

To remain determined, competitive, motivated, and active in one's hopes, ambitions, or goals; to keep oneself from becoming complacent or self-satisfied with less than one might potentially achieve.

Also, I don't find that "Keep hungry" makes a good fit.

So, what should I say?

Tasneem ZH

Posted 2019-02-10T05:15:10.927

Reputation: 2 452

1To me "keep" implies intention, or at least volition: that you want to carry on being hungry. That seems an odd thing to say, but from your paraphrase that maybe what you mean. (I find it odd that I often here weather forecasters on the radio say that we are going to "keep that rain into the evening", as though we had any wish or control.). – Colin Fine – 2019-02-10T11:39:37.283


As sung towards the end of this song, "stay hungry" is a natural option :)

– Luke Sawczak – 2019-02-10T16:42:06.283

@LukeSawczak - There wasn't a need for saying it six times, for me to understand it means the phrase literally when it is related to food. Thanks for the song, by the way. – Tasneem ZH – 2019-02-10T18:05:22.313

1@TasneemZh Fair enough. I admit it was a compulsive share owed solely to the fact that the song came into my head when I read the question :) – Luke Sawczak – 2019-02-10T18:09:54.797

@Luke Sawczak - No, that's okay. It was of great benefit to me at least. – Tasneem ZH – 2019-02-10T18:45:04.967


@LukeSawczak So you're referring to songs but didn't mention this one? :D

– lennyklb – 2019-02-11T10:33:27.523



I suppose your "idiomatic" meaning of stay hungry comes from this page: https://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/hungry. I think this is not really an idiom but rather a logical construction from one of the alternative meanings of hungry listed at the bottom of the same page: "ambitious." In other words, in order to tell someone not to lose their sense of ambition, one could say "stay ambitious" or "stay hungry."

I would further consider this meaning of "hungry" to be a metaphor, that is, it represents a metaphorical hunger for success rather than a hunger for food.

In fact, just about any such phrase using the word "hungry" could have the same metaphorical meaning: in a context where "stay hungry" means "stay ambitious," telling a person to "remain hungry" or "keep yourself hungry" would have the same meaning.

In the context where the alternative is to eat food, however, you could use any of the following phrases to tell someone to remain in a state of hunger:

  • stay hungry.
  • remain hungry.
  • be hungry.

The phrase keep hungry does not ring true to my ear. The word keep has various idiomatic uses, such as "keep calm", that have the form keep + (adjective), but this does not seem to be one of them.

The phrase go hungry is another idiom. It has a connotation of involuntary hunger: from https://www.collinsdictionary.com/us/dictionary/english/go-hungry,

If people go hungry, they do not have enough food to eat.

This does not seem to apply when food is available but one chooses not to eat it. The definition of the phrase varies from source to source, however: according to https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/go%20hungry, going hungry is a chronic condition, but https://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/go+hungry defines it as missing a single meal.

On the other hand, if the circumstances are that food has been set out to be eaten, but it will be taken away soon, I would understand the phrase

eat something or go hungry

to mean if you do not eat food now, while it is available, you will suffer from not having enough food to eat in the near future.

David K

Posted 2019-02-10T05:15:10.927

Reputation: 3 069

Thanks a lot for such a great answer. I would agree on "go hungry" phrase with its meaning to the situation on your last example, and it would fit if there was someone who was ordering that person, but no, it is something different. – Tasneem ZH – 2019-02-10T15:03:47.827

1Thanks, the last part was just exploring the meaning of "go hungry" to see where it might apply. The main intent of the answer is to argue that "remain hungry" and "stay hungry" are both suitable phrases for your particular usage. – David K – 2019-02-10T15:12:29.957

I really don't like taking the selection of the best answer, but I have to admit, you deserve it truly and fairly. Welcome and thanks again. I agree with all the points you've mentioned including the link.

– Tasneem ZH – 2019-02-10T18:40:47.183


Eat something or stay hungry

is the natural way to utter the thought desired in the context specified.

Yes, there is an idiom that "Stay hungry" means "remain determined," etc., but that idiom has not replaced the primary meaning of the word "hungry," which is to "be conscious of not having eaten enough recently." No native speaker would interpret the words above as

Eat some food or else continue being so determined.

The word "eat" would indicate unambiguously that the word "hungry" is to be interpreted in its literal sense rather than a figurative sense.

Jeff Morrow

Posted 2019-02-10T05:15:10.927

Reputation: 19 401

1I think in your second example you want "continue" rather than "stop". Aside from that detail, it's an excellent example. – David K – 2019-02-10T14:33:28.347

1You are correct. Thank you. I shall correct my answer. – Jeff Morrow – 2019-02-10T18:53:58.013


Another option would be remain: "eat something or remain hungry."

Andrew W

Posted 2019-02-10T05:15:10.927

Reputation: 71


I'm not a native speaker, but I'd rather use "stay hungry". I think the proper usage of keep might be when you leave something in a state, so technically (I guess) you can say like "keep myself hungry", but I've never seen any usage that uses the verb keep to leave the speaker itself in a state, rather leave another object in it.

Gwangmu Lee

Posted 2019-02-10T05:15:10.927

Reputation: 787

2My girlfriend might visit today, so I'll keep myself ready. My job involves hard physical work, so I have to keep myself fit. I'll keep myself available on Monday morning for you. – Michael Harvey – 2019-02-10T10:09:53.137

2To keep myself sane, I avoid reading tabloid newspapers. To keep myself holy, I pray every hour. To keep myself happy, I whistle a merry tune. Etc. – Michael Harvey – 2019-02-10T10:22:26.603

1To my (British English) ears "leave something in a state" means "cease interacting with something, so it remains in its current state" not "actively maintain something in its current state" which is what your examples "keep myself fit", "keep myself available" etc, mean. – alephzero – 2019-02-10T13:17:45.917


As a native English speaker, the phrase that comes to mind is "go hungry":

"If you refuse to eat anything, you'll go hungry."

Nathan K.

Posted 2019-02-10T05:15:10.927

Reputation: 151

1I 100% agree that "go hungry" is a well accepted idiom, but it does not, in my opinion, quite fit the situation contemplated by the question. The situation envisaged yjere is that the person addressed already is hungry. The implication that I get from "go hungry" is "become hungry." – Jeff Morrow – 2019-02-10T14:04:03.477


@JeffMorrow On the contrary, I think it is often the case that people who are said to "go hungry" are hungry all the time. For example, see https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/go%20hungry

– David K – 2019-02-10T14:31:23.243

@DavidK - I don't mean suffering hunger forever or all the time, it is just for a temporary event where the character (or me for simplicity) didn't eat anything that day, and at that time she (the character again) had the choice to break that fast or to remain hunger until the next chance/meal. – Tasneem ZH – 2019-02-10T14:55:28.010

1Thank you very much for suggesting that phrase, Nathan. But I knew it, and I was completey convinced that it is not a good fit for my case. – Tasneem ZH – 2019-02-10T14:57:31.340


For yet another definition of "go hungry", try https://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/go+hungry -- missing a single meal. Note that in the example usage given on that page, "The kids were late for dinner so they had to go hungry," it seems reasonable to assume the kids were already hungry at dinnertime and continued being hungry.

– David K – 2019-02-10T15:01:57.763