• synonyms


[grasp, grahsp]
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verb (used with object)
  1. to seize and hold by or as if by clasping with the fingers or arms.
  2. to seize upon; hold firmly.
  3. to get hold of mentally; comprehend; understand: I don't grasp your meaning.
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verb (used without object)
  1. to make an attempt to seize, or a motion of seizing, something (usually followed by at or for): a drowning man grasping at straws; to grasp for an enemy's rifle.
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  1. the act of grasping or gripping, as with the hands or arms: to make a grasp at something.
  2. a hold or grip: to have a firm grasp of a rope.
  3. one's arms or hands, in embracing or gripping: He took her in his grasp.
  4. one's power of seizing and holding; reach: to have a thing within one's grasp.
  5. hold, possession, or mastery: to wrest power from the grasp of a usurper.
  6. mental hold or capacity; power to understand.
  7. broad or thorough comprehension: a good grasp of computer programming.
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Origin of grasp

1350–1400; Middle English graspen, grapsen; cognate with Low German grapsen; akin to Old English gegræppian to seize (see grapple)
Related formsgrasp·a·ble, adjectivegrasp·er, noungrasp·less, adjectivere·grasp, verb (used with object)un·grasp·a·ble, adjectiveun·grasped, adjective


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1. grip, clutch; grab. 9. clutches. 10. scope, comprehension.

Synonym study

1. See catch. 10. Grasp, reach refer to the power of seizing, either concretely or figuratively. Grasp suggests actually seizing and closing the hand upon something (or, figuratively, thoroughly comprehending something) and therefore refers to what is within one's possession or immediate possibility of possession: a good grasp of a problem; immense mental grasp. Reach suggests a stretching out of (usually) the hand to touch, strike, or, if possible, seize something; it therefore refers to a potentiality of possession that requires an effort. Figuratively, it implies perhaps a faint conception of something still too far beyond one to be definitely and clearly understood.


Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for ungraspable

Historical Examples

  • It is the image of the ungraspable phantom of life; and this is the key to it all.

    Moby Dick; or The Whale

    Herman Melville

  • Since then he has cultivated only that ungraspable forelock.

  • He had no real knowledge of the subject, and I had none of any kind, which made its ungraspable facts all the more thrilling.

  • There were times when the ungraspable idea came before her that Juliet was herself.

    The Ghost Girl

    H. De Vere Stacpoole

  • Everything was elusive, ungraspable, evasive—he seemed to get no further forward.

    In the Mayor's Parlour

    J. S. (Joseph Smith) Fletcher

British Dictionary definitions for ungraspable


  1. to grip (something) firmly with or as if with the hands
  2. (when intr, often foll by at) to struggle, snatch, or grope (for)
  3. (tr) to understand, esp with effort
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  1. the act of grasping
  2. a grip or clasp, as of a hand
  3. the capacity to accomplish (esp in the phrase within one's grasp)
  4. total rule or possession
  5. understanding; comprehension
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Derived Formsgraspable, adjectivegrasper, noun

Word Origin

C14: from Low German grapsen; related to Old English græppian to seize, Old Norse grāpa to steal
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 ungraspable



mid-14c., "to reach for, feel around," possibly a metathesis of grapsen, from Old English *græpsan "to touch, feel," from Proto-Germanic *grap-, *grab- (cf. East Frisian grapsen "to grasp," Middle Dutch grapen "to seize, grasp," Old English grapian "to touch, feel, grope"), from PIE root *ghrebh- (see grab). Sense of "seize" first recorded mid-16c. Figurative use from c.1600; of intellectual matters from 1680s. Related: Grasped; grasping. The noun is from 1560s.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with ungraspable


In addition to the idiom beginning with grasp

  • grasp at straws

also see:

  • get a fix on (grasp of)
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The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.