Date: 1100-1200
Language: Old North French
Origin: cachier 'to hunt', from Vulgar Latin captiare, from Latin captare 'to try to catch', from capere 'to take'


1 verb
catch1 S1 W1 past tense and past participle caught

take and hold

a) [intransitive and transitive] to get hold of and stop an object such as a ball that is moving through the air [↪ throw]:
Stephen leapt up and caught the ball in one hand.
'Pass me that pen, would you?' 'Here you are. Catch!'
The kids were throwing and catching a frisbee down on the beach.
b) [transitive] to suddenly take hold of someone or something with your hand:
He caught her elbow to steady her.
Miss Perry caught hold of my sleeve and pulled me back.

find/stop somebody

a) to stop someone after you have been chasing them and not let them get away:
'You can't catch me!' she yelled, running away.
b) to find a criminal or enemy and stop them from escaping [= capture]:
State police have launched a massive operation to catch the murderer.
If you go back to the city you're bound to get caught.

see somebody doing something

[transitive] to see someone doing something that they did not want you to know they were doing
catch somebody doing something
I caught him reading my private letters.
Gemma turned around and caught the stranger looking at her intently.
catch somebody in the act (of doing something) (=catch someone while they are doing something illegal)
The gang was caught in the act of unloading the cigarettes.
He was caught red-handed (=as he was doing something wrong) taking money from the cash register.
catch somebody at it
We knew he'd been cheating, but we'd never caught him at it before.


[transitive] to get an infectious disease:
Anton caught malaria in Mali, and nearly died.
Many young people are still ignorant about how HIV is caught.
catch something from/off somebody/something
Typhoid and cholera are often caught from contaminated water supplies.
I caught chicken pox off my friend at school.
catch your death (of cold) British English spoken (=get a very bad cold)
Don't stand out in the rain. You'll catch your death.

catch somebody by surprise/catch somebody off guard

also catch somebody napping/unawares, catch somebody on the hop British English to do something or to happen when someone is not expecting it or prepared for it:
Her question caught him off guard.

catch somebody with their pants/trousers down

to discover that someone is doing something that they should not be doing or has not done something that they should have done:
He's not the first politician to be caught with his pants down, and he won't be the last.


[transitive] to trap an animal or fish by using a trap, net, or hook, or by hunting it:
Did you catch any fish?
Early settlers caught rabbits and squirrels and even rats in order to survive.

catch a train/plane/bus

to get on a train, plane etc in order to travel on it, or to be in time to get on a train, plane etc before it leaves:
I caught the 7.15 train to London.
There's a train in now. If you run, you'll just catch it.
I have to hurry - I have a bus to catch.

not miss somebody/something

[transitive]TCM to not be too late to do something, see something, talk to someone etc [≠ miss]:
I managed to catch her just as she was leaving.
I just caught the last few minutes of the documentary.
Tumours like these can be treated quite easily if they're caught early enough.
catch the post British English (=post letters in time for them to be collected that day)

get stuck

[intransitive and transitive] if your hand, finger, clothing etc catches or is caught in something, it gets stuck in it accidentally:
His overalls caught in the engine.
Her microphone was forever getting caught on her clothes.

catch somebody's attention/interest/imagination etc

to make you notice something and feel interested in it:
Lucie whistled sharply to catch the other girl's attention.
This is a story that will catch the imagination of every child.

not catch something

spoken to not hear or understand what someone says:
I'm afraid I didn't catch your name.


[transitive] to manage to hear a sound:
I caught the muffled thud of a car door slamming in the street.

catch you later

spoken used to say goodbye:
'I'll give you a call in a couple days.' 'Okay. Catch you later.'

do/see something

[transitive] spoken especially American English to go somewhere in order to do or see something:
We could catch a movie (=go to a movie).
M Records caught his act and signed him immediately.

catch a ride

American English spoken to go somewhere in someone else's car:
I caught a ride as far as Columbus.

you won't catch me doing something

also you won't catch me somewhere spoken used to say that you would never do something:
I love dancing but you won't catch me being the first on the dance floor!

catch it

informal to be punished by someone such as a parent or teacher because you have done something wrong:
You'll catch it if Dad finds out.

catch a glimpse of somebody/something

to see someone or something for a very short time:
Fans waited for hours at the airport to catch a glimpse of their idol.

catch sight of somebody/something

to suddenly see someone or something that you have been looking for or have been hoping to see:
I caught sight of her in the crowd.

describe well

[transitive] to show or describe the character or quality of something well in a picture, piece of writing etc [= capture]:
a novel that catches the mood of post-war Britain



catch fire

if something catches fire, it starts to burn accidentally:
Two farm workers died when a barn caught fire.
b) [intransitive] if a fire catches, it starts to burn:
For some reason the charcoal wasn't catching.

catch somebody's eye

a) to attract someone's attention and make them look at something:
Out on the freeway, a billboard caught his eye.
b) to look at someone at the same moment that they are looking at you:
Every time she caught his eye, she would glance away embarrassed.

catch yourself doing something

to suddenly realize you are doing something:
Standing there listening to the song, he caught himself smiling from ear to ear.


[transitive] to hit someone in or on a particular part of their body:
The punch caught him right in the face.

be caught in/without etc something

to be in a situation that you cannot easily get out of or in which you do not have something you need:
We got caught in a rainstorm on the way here.
Here's a useful tip if you're caught without a mirror.

catch your breath

a) to pause for a moment after a lot of physical effort in order to breathe normally again:
Hang on a minute - let me catch my breath!
b) to stop breathing for a moment because something has surprised, frightened, or shocked you
c) to take some time to stop and think about what you will do next after having been very busy or active:
It was an enforced absence from work, but at least it gave me a little time to catch my breath before the final push.


[transitive] if a container catches liquid, it is in a position where the liquid falls into it:
Place the baking sheet under the muffin pan to catch the drips.


[transitive] if the light catches something or if something catches the light, the light shines on it:
The sunlight caught her hair and turned it to gold.

catch the sun

informalMI if you catch the sun, your skin becomes red and sometimes sore because of the effects of sunlight:
You've caught the sun on the back of your neck.


[transitive] if something catches the wind or the wind catches something, it blows on it:
Gary swung the sail round to catch the light wind.


a) [transitive]DSC to end a player's innings in cricket by catching the ball that is hit off their bat before it touches the ground
b) [intransitive]DSB to be the catcher in a game of baseball

catch at something

phrasal verb
to try to take hold of something:
She caught at his arm, 'Hang on. I'm coming with you.'

catch on

phrasal verb
1 to become popular and fashionable:
The idea of glasses being a fashion item has been slow to catch on.
2 to begin to understand or realize something
catch on to
It was a long time before the police caught on to what he was really doing.

catch somebody out

phrasal verb
1 to make someone make a mistake, especially deliberately and in order to prove that they are lying:
The interviewer may try to catch you out.
2 if something unexpected catches you out, it puts you in a difficult situation because you were not expecting it or not fully prepared for it:
Even the best whitewater rafters get caught out by the fierce rapids here.

catch up

phrasal verb
1 to improve and reach the same standard as other people in your class, group etc:
If you miss a lot of classes, it's very difficult to catch up.
catch up with
At the moment our technology is more advanced, but other countries are catching up with us.
2 to come from behind and reach someone in front of you by going faster
catch up with
Drive faster - they're catching up with us.
catch somebody up British English
You go on ahead. I'll catch you up in a minute.
3 to do what needs to be done because you have not been able to do it until now
catch up on
I have some work to catch up on.
I need to catch up on some sleep (=after a period without enough sleep).
4 to spend time finding out what has been happening while you have been away or during the time you have not seen someone
catch up on
When I got home I phoned Jo to catch up on all the gossip.
I'll leave you two alone - I'm sure you've got a lot of catching up to do.

be/get caught up in something

to be or get involved in something, especially something bad:
I didn't want to get caught up in endless petty arguments.

catch up with somebody

phrasal verb
1 to finally find someone who has been doing something illegal and punish them:
It took six years for the law to catch up with them.
2 if something bad from the past catches up with you, you cannot avoid dealing with it any longer:
At the end of the movie his murky past catches up with him.

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