verb (used with object), caught, catch·ing.

  1. to seize or capture, especially after pursuit: to catch a criminal; to catch a runaway horse.
  2. to trap or ensnare: to catch a fish.
  3. to intercept and seize; take and hold (something thrown, falling, etc.): to catch a ball; a barrel to catch rain.
  4. to come upon suddenly; surprise or detect, as in some action: I caught him stealing the pumpkin.
  5. to receive, incur, or contract: to catch a cold.
  6. to be in time to get aboard (a train, boat, etc.).
  7. to lay hold of; grasp; clasp: He caught her arm.
  8. to grip, hook, or entangle: The closing door caught his arm.
  9. to allow (something) to become gripped, hooked, snagged, or entangled: He caught his coat on a nail.
  10. to attract or arrest: The painting caught his fancy. His speech caught our attention.
  11. to check or restrain suddenly (often used reflexively): She caught her breath in surprise. He caught himself before he said the wrong thing.
  12. to see or attend: to catch a show.
  13. to strike; hit: The blow caught him on the head.
  14. to become inspired by or aware of: I caught the spirit of the occasion.
  15. to fasten with or as if with a catch: to catch the clasp on a necklace.
  16. to deceive: No one was caught by his sugary words.
  17. to attract the attention of; captivate; charm: She was caught by his smile and good nature.
  18. to grasp with the intellect; comprehend: She failed to catch his meaning.
  19. to hear clearly: We caught snatches of their conversation.
  20. to apprehend and record; capture: The painting caught her expression perfectly.
  21. South Midland and Southern U.S. to assist at the birth of: The town doctor caught more than four hundred children before he retired.

verb (used without object), caught, catch·ing.

  1. to become gripped, hooked, or entangled: Her foot caught in the net.
  2. to overtake someone or something moving (usually followed by up, up with, or up to).
  3. to take hold: The door lock doesn’t catch.
  4. Baseball. to play the position of catcher He catches for the Yankees.
  5. to become lighted; take fire; ignite: The kindling caught instantly.
  6. to become established, as a crop or plant, after germination and sprouting.


  1. the act of catching.
  2. anything that catches, especially a device for checking motion, as a latch on a door.
  3. any tricky or concealed drawback: It seems so easy that there must be a catch somewhere.
  4. a slight, momentary break or crack in the voice.
  5. that which is caught, as a quantity of fish: The fisherman brought home a large catch.
  6. a person or thing worth getting, especially a person regarded as a desirable matrimonial prospect: My mother thinks Pat would be quite a catch.
  7. a game in which a ball is thrown from one person to another: to play catch; to have a catch.
  8. a fragment: catches of a song.
  9. Music. a round, especially one in which the words are so arranged as to produce ludicrous effects.
  10. Sports. the catching and holding of a batted or thrown ball before it touches the ground.
  11. Rowing. the first part of the stroke, consisting of the placing of the oar into the water.
  12. Agriculture. the establishment of a crop from seed: a catch of clover.


  1. catchy(def 3).

Verb Phrases

  1. catch at, to grasp at eagerly; accept readily: He caught at the chance to get free tickets.
  2. catch on,
    1. to become popular: That new song is beginning to catch on.
    2. to grasp mentally; understand: You’d think he’d catch on that he’s boring us.
    3. New England.(in cooking) to scorch or burn slightly; sear: A pot roast is better if allowed to catch on.
  3. catch out, Chiefly British. to catch or discover (a person) in deceit or an error.
  4. catch up,
    1. to lift or snatch suddenly: Leaves were caught up in the wind.
    2. to bring or get up to date (often followed by on or with): to catch up on one’s reading.
    3. to come up to or overtake (something or someone) (usually followed by with): to catch up with the leader in a race.
    4. to become involved or entangled with: caught up in the excitement of the crowd.
    5. to point out to (a person) minor errors, untruths, etc. (usually followed by on): We caught the teacher up on a number of factual details.
    6. capture for further training (a hawk that has been flown at hack).
    7. South Midland and Southern harness (a horse or mule).

  1. catch a crab, (in rowing) to bungle a stroke by failing to get the oar into the water at the beginning or by failing to withdraw it properly at the end.
  2. catch a turn, Nautical. to wind a rope around a bitt, capstan, etc., for one full turn.
  3. catch it, Informal. to receive a reprimand or punishment: He’ll catch it from his mother for tearing his good trousers again.

verb catches, catching or caught

  1. (tr) to take hold of so as to retain or restrainhe caught the ball
  2. (tr) to take, seize, or capture, esp after pursuit
  3. (tr) to ensnare or deceive, as by trickery
  4. (tr) to surprise or detect in an acthe caught the dog rifling the larder
  5. (tr) to reach with a blowthe stone caught him on the side of the head
  6. (tr) to overtake or reach in time to boardif we hurry we should catch the next bus
  7. (tr) to see or hear; attendI didn’t catch the Ibsen play
  8. (tr) to be infected withto catch a cold
  9. to hook or entangle or become hooked or entangledher dress caught on a nail
  10. to fasten or be fastened with or as if with a latch or other device
  11. (tr) to attract or arrestshe tried to catch his eye
  12. (tr) to comprehendI didn’t catch his meaning
  13. (tr) to hear accuratelyI didn’t catch what you said
  14. (tr) to captivate or charm
  15. (tr) to perceive and reproduce accuratelythe painter managed to catch his model’s beauty
  16. (tr) to hold back or restrainhe caught his breath in surprise
  17. (intr) to become alightthe fire won’t catch
  18. (tr) cricket to dismiss (a batsman) by intercepting and holding a ball struck by him before it touches the ground
  19. (intr often foll by at)
    1. to grasp or attempt to grasp
    2. to take advantage (of), esp eagerlyhe caught at the chance
  20. (intr; used passively) informal to make pregnant
  21. catch it informal to be scolded or reprimanded
  22. catch oneself on slang to realize that one’s actions are mistaken


  1. the act of catching or grasping
  2. a device that catches and fastens, such as a latch
  3. anything that is caught, esp something worth catching
  4. the amount or number caught
  5. informal a person regarded as an eligible matrimonial prospect
  6. a check or break in the voice
  7. a break in a mechanism
  8. informal
    1. a concealed, unexpected, or unforeseen drawback or handicap
    2. (as modifier)a catch question
  9. a game in which a ball is thrown from one player to another
  10. cricket the catching of a ball struck by a batsman before it touches the ground, resulting in him being out
  11. music a type of round popular in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, having a humorous text that is often indecent or bawdy and hard to articulateSee round (def. 31), canon 1 (def. 7)

late 14c., “device to hold a latch of a door,” also “a trap;” also “a fishing vessel,” from catch (v.). Meaning “action of catching” attested from 1570s. Meaning “that which is caught or worth catching” (later especially of spouses) is from 1590s. Sense of “hidden cost, qualification, etc.” is slang first recorded 1855 in P.T. Barnum.


c.1200, “to take, capture,” from Anglo-French or Old North French cachier “catch, capture” (animals) (Old French chacier “hunt, pursue, drive (animals),” Modern French chasser “to hunt;” making it a doublet of chase (v.)), from Vulgar Latin *captiare “try to seize, chase” (also source of Spanish cazar, Italian cacciare), from Latin captare “to take, hold,” frequentative of Latin capere “to take, hold” (see capable).

Senses in early Middle English also included “chase, hunt,” which later went with chase (v.). Of infections from 1540s; of fire from 1734; of sleep, etc., from early 14c. Related: Catched (obsolete); catching; caught.

Meaning “act as a catcher in baseball” recorded from 1865. To catch on “apprehend” is 1884, American English colloquial. To catch (someone’s) eye is first attested 1813, in Jane Austen. Catch as catch can first attested late 14c.

In addition to the idioms beginning with catch

  • catch as catch can
  • catch at
  • catch a Tartar
  • catch cold
  • catch fire
  • catch in the act
  • catch it
  • catch napping
  • catch off guard
  • catch on
  • catch one’s breath
  • catch one’s death (of cold)
  • catch red-handed
  • catch sight of
  • catch someone’s eye
  • catch some rays
  • catch some z’s
  • catch the drift
  • catch up

also see:

  • early bird catches the worm
  • get (catch) the drift
  • takes one to know one (a thief to catch a thief)

Also see undercaught.

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