For Keeps

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Meaning of Idiom 'For Keeps'

1. Forever; permanently; for an indefinite period of time. 1,2,3

2. The winner keeps the prize or object of a game or the victor takes the spoils permanently, as in the phrase "playing for keeps."

2. Definitely; seriously; with certain intentions. 4


The first meaning can refer to having permanent possession of an object, but 'for keeps' can also be a direct synonym for permanently or forever.

Although the second meaning often refers to real games, the idiom is also used to refer figuratively to contests or any type of agonist/antagonist relationship, such as between businesses or political candidates.


"You can use the car anytime you'd like," said Dad. "And, as soon as I get a new one, you can have it for keeps."

"He's a complete newbie at poker. He didn't even know we were playing for keeps."

"Have you heard? Alex and Patricia broke up again. They say it's for keeps this time."


Although the slightly different meanings have evolved over time, the idiom has been in use since the mid-1800's. 4

1. Spears, Richard A. McGraw-Hill's American Idioms Dictionary. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2008.
2. Ayto, John. Oxford Dictionary of English Idioms. Oxford: Oxford U, 2010.
3. Kirkpatrick, Elizabeth M. The Wordsworth Dictionary of Idioms. Ware: Wordsworth, 1995.
4. Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.

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