“Maintain” Vs. “Sustain” Vs. “Retain” – Difference Explained

Marcus Froland

Have you ever been uncertain when to use ‘maintain’, ‘sustain’, and ‘retain’? If so, then this article is just for you!

In it, we’ll explain the meanings of these three words, give examples of their usage, discuss their similarities and differences, and provide tips on how to properly use them.

Get ready to finally understand the difference between ‘maintain’, ‘sustain’, and ‘retain’!

Key Takeaways

  • ‘Maintain’, ‘sustain’, and ‘retain’ all involve the idea of preserving something.
  • ‘Maintain’ refers to keeping something at its current level or condition.
  • ‘Sustain’ means keeping something going over time.
  • ‘Retain’ requires holding onto something.

Meaning of ‘Maintain’, ‘Sustain’, and ‘Retain’

You need to understand the meanings of ‘maintain’, ‘sustain’, and ‘retain’ in order to differentiate between them.

To maintain something is to keep it at its current level or condition. For example, maintaining your health, a relationship, or a job.

Sustaining means keeping something going over time. This could be sustaining an activity by continuing to do it regularly or sustaining a business by finding ways to make money.

Retaining requires holding onto something. Retaining knowledge, customers, or employees are all examples of this.

Understanding these definitions will help you distinguish between the three words when used in different contexts.

Examples of ‘Maintain’, ‘Sustain’, and ‘Retain’

We can maintain a healthy lifestyle by exercising regularly and eating nutritious foods. Additionally, getting adequate sleep, avoiding smoking and drinking alcohol, and engaging in physical activities are important for our overall well-being.

To sustain a positive attitude, we can practice mindfulness and gratitude. This involves being present in the moment and appreciating the good things in our lives. Setting realistic goals to achieve our dreams and developing helpful coping strategies are also effective ways to maintain a positive mindset.

Retaining knowledge involves studying daily and actively engaging with the material. This can include taking notes during lectures or seminars, reading material related to the topic of study, and using mnemonic devices to aid in memory retention.

Similarities Between ‘Maintain’, ‘Sustain’, and ‘Retain’

Despite their different meanings, ‘maintain’, ‘sustain’, and ‘retain’ all involve taking steps to ensure something is preserved.

  • Maintain:

  • Identifying potential issues

  • Taking preventative action

  • Monitoring the situation

  • Sustain:

  • Addressing existing issues

  • Developing solutions

  • Keeping up with changes over time

  • Retain:

  • Storing important information

  • Documenting activities and events

  • Establishing a system of record-keeping.

These actions help maintain order, stability, and consistency in any environment.

Differences Between ‘Maintain’, ‘Sustain’, and ‘Retain’

Though they have some similarities, ‘maintain’, ‘sustain’, and ‘retain’ each involve different steps to ensure something is preserved.

Maintaining something means keeping it in its current state; it’s often used for physical objects or systems.

Sustaining requires more effort as you must actively work to keep something going over a period of time.

Retaining refers to saving or making sure a certain thing is kept in memory or use despite changes or challenges. It typically involves preserving knowledge, skills, or information.

All three processes are necessary for any successful endeavor and require an ongoing commitment to ensure desired outcomes are achieved.

How to Use ‘Maintain’, ‘Sustain’, and ‘Retain’

You can use ‘maintain’, ‘sustain’, and ‘retain’ in different ways to help you reach your goals.

  • Maintain – This means keeping something at a certain level, or maintaining consistency over time. It could refer to things like upkeep of a property, regular maintenance of a vehicle, or upholding standards in an organization.

  • Sustain – This involves supporting something so it continues to exist or operate effectively. It could involve providing resources for a project, maintaining progress on an initiative, or sustaining relationships with customers.

  • Retain – This involves keeping something that already exists and not allowing it to be lost or forgotten. It might involve retaining knowledge through training and education, preserving documents for future reference, or safeguarding data security protocols.


You’ve now learned what maintain, sustain, and retain mean, as well as how to use them.

All three words suggest an ongoing action or state of being: maintaining something means keeping it in its current condition; sustaining something means continuing it over time; and retaining something means keeping it in one’s possession.

While they have similarities, the subtle differences between each word are important to understand so that you can choose the most accurate one when communicating with others.