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From Middle English apprehenden, from Old French apprehender (compare modern French appréhender), from Latin apprehendere. Compare Spanish aprehender.


  • (US) IPA(key): /æ.pɹiˈhɛnd/
  • Rhymes: -ɛnd
  • (file)


apprehend (third-person singular simple present apprehends, present participle apprehending, simple past and past participle apprehended)

  1. (transitive, archaic) To take or seize; to take hold of.
    • 1650, Jeremy Taylor, Of Contentedness
      We have two hands to apprehend it.
    1. (transitive, law enforcement) To take or seize (a person) by legal process; to arrest.
      Officers apprehended the suspect two streets away from the bank.
  2. (transitive) To take hold of with the understanding, that is, to conceive in the mind; to become cognizant of; to understand; to recognize; to consider.
    • 1639, Thomas Fuller, The Historie of the Holy Warre
      This suspicion of Earl Reimund, though at first but a buzz, soon got a sting in the king's head, and he violently apprehended it.
    • 1858, William Ewart Gladstone, Studies on Homer and the Homeric Age
      The eternal laws, such as the heroic age apprehended them.
    • 1922, Carl Becker, The Declaration of Independence, page 221:
      Jefferson apprehended the injustice of slavery; but one is inclined to ask how deeply he felt it.
  3. (transitive) To anticipate; especially, to anticipate with anxiety, dread, or fear; to fear.
  4. (intransitive) To think, believe, or be of opinion; to understand; to suppose.
  5. (intransitive) To be apprehensive; to fear.

Usage notes[edit]

The word apprehend and comprehend have a noteworthy difference. Both describe as describing acts of the mind. Whereas apprehend denotes the grasping of something mentally, so as to understand it clearly, at least in part, comprehend denotes the entire understanding. We may, thus, apprehend many ideas, without comprehending them. For example, the very idea of God supposes that He may be apprehended, though not comprehended, by rational beings. A useful quotation is found below.

  • 1851, Richard Chenevix Trench, The Study of Words
    I read Hamlet, or King Lear: here I “apprehend” much; I have wondrous glimpses of the poet's intention and aim; but I do not for an instant suppose that I have “comprehended,” taken in, that is, all that was in his mind in the writing


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Derived terms[edit]