an effort to reach or pass a norm, especially after a period of delay: After the slowdown there was a catch-up in production.
an effort to catch up with or surpass a competitor, as in a sports contest.
an instance of catching up.


intended to keep up with or surpass a norm or competitor: a catch-up pay raise to offset inflation.


    play catch-up, Informal. to make a special effort to overcome a late start, a liability, or the advantage a competitor has: After Russia launched the first space satellite, other countries had to play catch-up.

Origin of catch-up

1835–45, Americanism; noun, adj. use of verb phrase catch up



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

to seize or capture, especially after pursuit: to catch a criminal; to catch a runaway horse.
to trap or ensnare: to catch a fish.
to intercept and seize; take and hold (something thrown, falling, etc.): to catch a ball; a barrel to catch rain.
to come upon suddenly; surprise or detect, as in some action: I caught him stealing the pumpkin.
to receive, incur, or contract: to catch a cold.
to be in time to get aboard (a train, boat, etc.).
to lay hold of; grasp; clasp: He caught her arm.
to grip, hook, or entangle: The closing door caught his arm.
to allow (something) to become gripped, hooked, snagged, or entangled: He caught his coat on a nail.
to attract or arrest: The painting caught his fancy. His speech caught our attention.
to check or restrain suddenly (often used reflexively): She caught her breath in surprise. He caught himself before he said the wrong thing.
to see or attend: to catch a show.
to strike; hit: The blow caught him on the head.
to become inspired by or aware of: I caught the spirit of the occasion.
to fasten with or as if with a catch: to catch the clasp on a necklace.
to deceive: No one was caught by his sugary words.
to attract the attention of; captivate; charm: She was caught by his smile and good nature.
to grasp with the intellect; comprehend: She failed to catch his meaning.
to hear clearly: We caught snatches of their conversation.
to apprehend and record; capture: The painting caught her expression perfectly.
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.

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


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


Verb Phrases

catch at, to grasp at eagerly; accept readily: He caught at the chance to get free tickets.
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.
catch out, Chiefly British. to catch or discover (a person) in deceit or an error.
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).

Origin of catch

1175–1225; Middle English cacchen to chase, capture < Old North French cachier < Vulgar Latin *captiāre, for Latin captāre to grasp at, seek out, try to catch, frequentative of capere to take
Related formscatch·a·ble, adjectiveout·catch, verb (used with object), out·caught, out·catch·ing.un·catch·a·ble, adjective

Synonyms for catch

Synonym study

7. Catch, clutch, grasp, seize imply taking hold suddenly of something. To catch may be to reach after and get: He caught my hand. To clutch is to take firm hold of (often out of fear or nervousness), and retain: The child clutched her mother's hand. To grasp also suggests both getting and keeping hold of, with a connotation of eagerness and alertness, rather than fear (literally or figuratively): to grasp someone's hand in welcome; to grasp an idea. To seize implies the use of force or energy in taking hold of suddenly (literally or figuratively): to seize a criminal; to seize an opportunity.

Antonyms for catch

1, 7, 28. release. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

British Dictionary definitions for catch up

catch up

verb (adverb)

(tr) to seize and take up (something) quickly
(when intr, often foll by with) to reach or pass (someone or something), after followinghe soon caught him up
(intr; usually foll by on or with) to make up for lost ground or deal with a backlog (in some specified task or activity)
(tr; often passive) to absorb or involveshe was caught up in her reading
(tr) to raise by or as if by fasteningthe hem of her dress was caught up with ribbons


verb catches, catching or caught

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


the act of catching or grasping
a device that catches and fastens, such as a latch
anything that is caught, esp something worth catching
the amount or number caught
informal a person regarded as an eligible matrimonial prospect
a check or break in the voice
a break in a mechanism
  1. a concealed, unexpected, or unforeseen drawback or handicap
  2. (as modifier)a catch question
a game in which a ball is thrown from one player to another
cricket the catching of a ball struck by a batsman before it touches the ground, resulting in him being out
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)
Derived Formscatchable, adjective

Word Origin for catch

C13 cacchen to pursue, from Old Northern French cachier, from Latin captāre to snatch, from capere to seize
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for catch up



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.



"a working to overtake a leading rival," by 1971, probably a figurative use from U.S. football in reference to being behind in the score. From verbal phrase catch up, which was used from early 14c. in sense "raise aloft" and from 1855 in sense "overtake;" see catch (v.) + up (adv.).



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.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with catch up

catch up


Suddenly snatch or lift up, as in The wind caught up the kite and sent it high above the trees. [First half of 1300s]


Also, catch up with. Come from behind, overtake. This usage can be either literal, as in You run so fast it's hard to catch up with you, or figurative, as in The auditors finally caught up with the embezzler. [Mid-1800s]


Become involved with, enthralled by, as in We all were caught up in the magical mood of that evening. [Mid-1600s]


Also, catch up on or with. Bring or get up to date, as in Let's get together soon and catch up on all the news, or Tonight I have to catch up with my correspondence. [First half of 1900s]


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.

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.