From Late Middle English apprehenden (“to grasp, take hold of; to comprehend; to learn”), from Old French apprehender (modern French appréhender (“to apprehend; to catch; to dread”)), from Latin apprehendere, adprehendere, the present active infinitive of apprehendō, adprehendō (“to grab, grasp, seize, take; to apprehend, arrest; to comprehend, understand; to embrace, include; to take possession of, obtain, secure”), from ap-, ad- (prefix meaning ‘to’) + prehendō (“to grab, grasp, seize, snatch, take; to accost; to catch in the act, take by surprise; (figuratively, rare) of the mind: to apprehend, comprehend, grasp”) (ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *gʰed- (“to hold, seize, take; to find”)).
- (Received Pronunciation, General American) IPA(key): /æpɹiˈhɛnd/
Audio (Southern England) (file)
- Rhymes: -ɛnd
- Hyphenation: ap‧pre‧hend
- To be or become aware of (something); to perceive.
- 1651, Thomas Hobbes, “Of the Signification of Spirit, Angel, and Inspiration in the Books of Holy Scripture”, in Leviathan, or The Matter, Forme, & Power of a Common-wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civill, London: […] [William Wilson] for Andrew Crooke, […], OCLC 895063360, third part (Of a Christian Common-wealth), page 212:
- […] Angel ſignifieth there, nothing but God himſelf, that cauſed Agar ſupernaturally to apprehend a voice from heaven; or rather, nothing elſe but a Voice ſupernaturall, teſtifying Gods ſpeciall preſence there.
- 1719 April 25, [Daniel Defoe], The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, […], 3rd edition, London: […] W[illiam] Taylor […], published 1719, OCLC 838630407, page 70:
- [A]s to the barrel [of gunpowder] that had been wet, I did not apprehend any Danger from that; ſo I plac'd it in my new Cave, which in my Fancy I call'd my Kitchin, and the reſt I hid up and down in Holes among the Rocks, ſo that no wet might come to it, marking very carefully where I laid it.
- 1832, Charles Simeon, “[2 Kings.] The Hypocrisy of Gehazi.”, in Horæ Homilecticæ: Or Discourses (Principally in the Form of Skeletons) Now First Digested into One Continued Series, and Forming a Commentary upon Every Book of the Old and New Testament; […], volume III (Judges to Second Book of Kings), London: Holdsworth and Ball, […], OCLC 58895812, page 500:
- From thy composure on the occasion it was evident, that thou expectedst to reap the fruit of thine iniquity in peace; and that, when thou repliedst, "All is well," thou apprehendedst no evil. But didst thou forget that God saw thee?
- To acknowledge the existence of (something); to recognize.
- To take hold of (something) with understanding; to conceive (something) in the mind; to become cognizant of; to understand.
- 1569, [Reginald] Pole, chapter IIII, in [Thomas Copley?], transl., A Treatie of Iustification. […], Leuven: […] Ioannem Foulerum, OCLC 55579710, 2nd book (Declaring the Second Danger), folio 41:
- If to apprehend Chriſte be vnderſtanded, to dvvell in Chriſte, and to haue him dvvell in vs, it is not true that Chriſte is apprehended in that ſorte, by onely faith vvithout charitie. […] He apprehendeth Chriſte truely, that cleaueth vnto Chriſt, and the glue vvhereby the ſovvle is fastned vnto Chriſte, ſaith S. Auguſtine, is charitie: […]
- 1639, Thomas Fuller, “The Fatall Jealousies betwixt the King and Reimund Earl of Tripoli”, in The Historie of the Holy Warre, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire: […] Thomas Buck, one of the printers to the Universitie of Cambridge [and sold by John Williams, London], OCLC 913016526, book II, page 100:
- This ſuſpicion of Earl Reimund, though at firſt but a buzze, ſoon got a ſting in the Kings head, and he violently apprehended it.
- 1684, John Bunyan, “ A Holy Life the Beauty of Christianity: Or, An Exhortation to Christians to be Holy”, in Henry Stebbing, editor, The Entire Works of John Bunyan, […], volume III, London: James S[prent] Virtue, […], published 1862, OCLC 752741467, page 305, column 2:
- There are three things in faith that directly tend to make a man depart from iniquity. (1.) It apprehendeth the truth of the being, and greatness of God, and so it aweth the spirit of a man. (2.) It apprehendeth the love of this God in Christ, and so it conquereth and overcometh the spirit of a man. (3.) It apprehendeth the sweetness and blessedness of the nature of the godhead, and thence persuadeth the soul to desire here communion with him, that it may be holy, and the enjoyment of him when this world is ended, that it may be happy in and by him for ever.
- 1922, Carl Becker, “The Literary Qualities of the Declaration”, in The Declaration of Independence: A Study in the History of Political Ideas, New York, N.Y.: Harcourt, Brace and Company, OCLC 1243028933, page 221:
- [Thomas] Jefferson apprehended the injustice of slavery; but one is inclined to ask how deeply he felt it.
- To have a conception of (something); to consider, to regard.
- c. 1605–1608, William Shakespeare, “The Life of Tymon of Athens”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies […] (First Folio), London: […] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, OCLC 606515358, [Act I, scene i], page 82, column 1:
- 1639, Thomas Fuller, “The Corasines Cruelly Sack the City of Jerusalem and Kill the Christians therein”, in The Historie of the Holy Warre, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire: […] Thomas Buck, one of the printers to the Universitie of Cambridge [and sold by John Williams, London], OCLC 913016526, book IV, page 183:
- In ſtead therefore of giving them a houſe, he ſent them to a work-houſe; yet ſo, that they apprehended it a great courteſie done unto them: For he beſtowed on them all the lands which the Chriſtians held in Paleſtine; […]
- 1651, Thomas Hobbes, “Of Dæmonology, and Other Reliques of the Religion of the Gentiles”, in Leviathan, or The Matter, Forme, & Power of a Common-wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civill, London: […] [William Wilson] for Andrew Crooke, […], OCLC 895063360, fourth part (Of the Kingdome of Darknesse), page 363:
- [A]t this day, the ignorant People, where Images are worſhipped, doe really beleeve there is a Divine Power in the Images; and are told by their Paſtors, that ſome of them have ſpoken; and have bled; and that miracles have been done by them; which they apprehended as done by the Saint, which they think either is the Image it ſelf, or in it.
- 1858, W[illiam] E[wart] Gladstone, “Sect. I. On the Plot of the Iliad.”, in Studies on Homer and the Homeric Age. […], volume III, Oxford, Oxfordshire: University Press, OCLC 987449729, part IV (Aoidos), page 393:
- […] Erinūs, who, in so many particular passages of the poems, makes miniature appearances in order to vindicate the eternal laws, such as the heroic age apprehended them, likewise presides in full development over the general action of each of these extraordinary poems.
- To anticipate (something, usually unpleasant); especially, to anticipate (something) with anxiety, dread, or fear; to dread, to fear.
- c. 1602, William Shakespeare, The Famous Historie of Troylus and Cresseid. […] (First Quarto), London: […] G[eorge] Eld for R[ichard] Bonian and H[enry] Walley, […], published 1609, OCLC 951696502, [Act III, scene ii]:
- O let my Lady apprehend no feare, / In all Cupids pageant there is preſented no monſter.
- c. 1603–1604, William Shakespeare, “Measvre for Measure”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies […] (First Folio), London: […] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, OCLC 606515358, [Act IV, scene ii], page 76, column 2:
- Duke. Hath he borne himſelfe penitently in priſon? How ſeemes he to be touch'd? / Pro[vost]. A man that apprehends death no more dreadfully, but as a drunken ſleepe, careleſſe, wreakleſſe, and feareleſſe of what's paſt, preſent, or to come: inſenſible of mortality, and deſperately mortall.
- 1642, Tho[mas] Browne, “The First Part”, in Religio Medici. […], 4th edition, London: […] E. Cotes for Andrew Crook […], published 1656, OCLC 927499620, section 54, page 115:
- There is no ſalvation to thoſe that beleeve not in Chriſt, that is ſay ſome, ſince his Nativity, and as Divinity affirmeth, before alſo; which makes me much apprehend the ends of thoſe honeſt Worthies and Philoſophers which died before his incarnation.
- 1749, Henry Fielding, “The Character of Mr. Square the Philosopher, and of Mr. Thwackum the Divine; with a Dispute Concerning ——”, in The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, volume I, London: A[ndrew] Millar […], OCLC 928184292, book III, page 168:
- [T]he Parſon had concluded his Speech with a triumphant Queſtion, to which he had apprehended no Anſwer; viz. Can any Honour exiſt independent on Religion?
- 1849, Thomas Babington Macaulay, chapter II, in The History of England from the Accession of James II, volume I, London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, OCLC 1069526323, page 260:
- The king determined to try once more the experiment of a dissolution [of parliament]. A new parliament was summoned to meet at Oxford, in March, 1681. […] The university was devoted to the crown; and the gentry of the neighbourhood were generally Tories. Here, therefore, the opposition had more reason than the king to apprehend violence.
- (archaic or obsolete, also figuratively) To seize or take (something); to take hold of.
- Synonym: catch
- 1607, Edward Topsell, “Of the Dogge”, in The Historie of Fovre-footed Beastes. […], London: […] William Iaggard, OCLC 912897215, page 156:
- Nicias a certaine hunter going abroad in the woods, chaunced to fall into a heape of burning coales, hauing no helpe about him but his dogs, there he periſhed, yet they ranne to the high waies and ceaſed not with barking and apprehending the garments of paſſengers, to ſhew vnto them ſome direfull euent: and at laſt one of the trauailers followed the dogs, and came to the place where they ſaw the man conſumed, and by that coniectured the whole ſtory.
- 1651, Jer[emy] Taylor, “Of Christian Sobriety”, in The Rule and Exercises of Holy Living. […], 2nd edition, London: […] Francis Ashe […], OCLC 1203220866, section VI (Of Contentedness in All Estates and Accidents), page 134:
- When any thing happens to our diſpleaſure, let us endeavour to take of its trouble by turning it into ſpiritual or artificial advantage, and handle it on that ſide, in which it may be uſeful to the deſignes of reaſon. For there is nothing but hath a double handle, or at leaſt we have two hands to apprehend it.
- (law enforcement) To seize or take (a person) by legal process; to arrest.
- 1651, Thomas Hobbes, “Of Power Ecclesiasticall”, in Leviathan, or The Matter, Forme, & Power of a Common-wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civill, London: […] [William Wilson] for Andrew Crooke, […], OCLC 895063360, third part (Of a Christian Common-wealth), page 276:
- […] Paul before his converſion entred into their Synagogues at Damaſcus, to apprehend Chriſtians, men and women, and to carry them bound to Jeruſalem, by Commiſſion from the High Prieſt.
- 1769, William Blackstone, “Of Arrests”, in Commentaries on the Laws of England, book IV (Of Public Wrongs), Oxford: […] Clarendon Press, OCLC 65350522, page 287:
- [A] juſtice of the peace cannot iſſue a warrant to apprehend a felon upon bare ſuſpicion; no, not even till an indictment be actually found: and the contrary practice is by others held to be grounded rather upon connivance, than the expreſs rule of law; though now by long cuſtom eſtabliſhed.
- 1851, Thomas Babington Macaulay, chapter XIII, in The History of England from the Accession of James the Second, volume III, London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, OCLC 1069526323, page 328:
- He soon returned to the Lowlands, and stayed there till he learned that a considerable body of troops had been sent to apprehend him.
- To feel (something) emotionally.
- 1592, Thomas Nash[e], Pierce Penilesse His Supplication to the Deuill. […], London: […] [John Charlewood for] Richard Ihones, […], OCLC 86095368; republished as J[ohn] Payne Collier, editor, Pierce Penniless’s Supplication to the Devil. […], London: […] [Frederic Shoberl, Jun.] for the Shakespeare Society, 1842, OCLC 1080805044, pages 66–67:
- [H]ow it worketh in the mindes and soules of them that haue no power to apprehend such felicitie, it is not for me to intimate, because it is preiudiciall to our monarchie.
- 1605 (first performance), Benjamin Jonson [i.e., Ben Jonson], “Volpone, or The Foxe. A Comœdie. […]”, in The Workes of Ben Jonson (First Folio), London: […] Will[iam] Stansby, published 1616, OCLC 960101342, Act II, scene i, page 465:
- Pol[itic Would-Be]. Stone dead! / Per[egrine]. Dead. Lord! how deeply, ſir, you apprehend it? / He was no kinſman to you?
- 1670, Izaak Walton, “The Life of Mr. Rich[ard] Hooker, the Author of Those Learned Books of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity”, in The Lives of Dr. John Donne, Sir Henry Wotton, Mr. Richard Hooker, Mr. George Herbert. […], volume III, London: […] Tho[mas] Newcomb for Rich[ard] Marriott, […], OCLC 1179705955, page 29:
- But the juſtifying of this Doctrine did not prove of ſo bad conſequence, as the kindneſs of Mrs. Churchmans curing him of his late Diſtemper and Cold; for that was ſo gratefully apprehended by Mr. Hooker, that he thought himſelf bound in conſcience to believe all that ſhe ſaid; […]
- To learn (something).
- 1531, Thomas Elyot, “Of Pacience Deserued in Repulse, or Hynderaunce of Promocion”, in Ernest Rhys, editor, The Boke Named the Governour […] (Everyman’s Library), London: J[oseph] M[alaby] Dent & Co; New York, N.Y.: E[dward] P[ayson] Dutton & Co, published , OCLC 1026313858, 3rd book, page 236:
- Undowghtedly in a prince or noble man may be nothinge more excellent, ye nothing more necessarye, than to aduance men after the estimation of their goodnes; and that for two speciall commodities that do come thereof. Fyrste, that thereby they prouoke many men to apprehende vertue.
- a. 1681, Samuel Butler, “Satyr”, in R[obert] Thyer, editor, The Genuine Remains in Verse and Prose of Mr. Samuel Butler, […], volume I, London: […] J[acob] and R[ichard] Tonson, […], published 1759, OCLC 38679873, lines 21–24, page 32:
- Though Children, without Study, Pains, or Thought, / Are Languages, and vulgar Notions taught, / Improve their nat'ral Talents without Care, / And apprehend, before they are aware; […]
- (also figuratively) To take possession of (something); to seize.
- 1611, The Holy Bible, […] (King James Version), London: […] Robert Barker, […], OCLC 964384981, Philippians 3:12, column 2:
- Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which alſo I am apprehended of Chriſt Jeſus.
- New International Version translation: Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.
- 1810, John Gillies, “the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to Philemon”, in The New Testament of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ; with Devotional Reflections, […], volume II, new edition, London: […] Richard Edwards, […], OCLC 1035855339, section I, page 397:
- To feel (something) emotionally.
- To be or become aware of (something); to perceive.
- To be of opinion, believe, or think; to suppose.
- 1614 November 10 (first performance; Gregorian calendar), Beniamin Iohnson [i.e., Ben Jonson], Bartholmevv Fayre: A Comedie, […], London: […] I[ohn] B[eale] for Robert Allot, […], published 1631, OCLC 869654321, Act I, scene iiii, page 8:
- Sir, if you haue a minde to mocke him, mocke him ſoftly, and looke to'ther way: for if hee apprehend you flout him, once, he will flie at you preſently. A terrible teſtie old fellow, and his name is Waſpe too.
- 1748, [Samuel Richardson], “Letter LXXI. Mr. Hickman, to Miss Clarisa Harlowe. [Sent to Wilson’s by a Particular Hand.]”, in Clarissa. Or, The History of a Young Lady: […], volume III, London: […] S[amuel] Richardson; […], OCLC 13631815, page 342:
- And ſince thou relieſt more on thy own precaution than upon my honour; be it unto thee as thou apprehendeſt, fair one!
- To understand.
- 1712 November 21 (Gregorian calendar), Richard Steele, “MONDAY, November 10, 1712”, in The Spectator, number 532; republished in Alexander Chalmers, editor, The Spectator; a New Edition, […], volume VI, New York, N.Y.: D[aniel] Appleton & Company, 1853, OCLC 191120697, page 80:
- I confess I cannot apprehend where lies the trifling in all this; […]
- To be apprehensive; to fear.
- c. 1700, Jean de La Bruyère, “No. CLXXXVI”, in Nicholas Rowe, transl.; [John Timbs], editor, Laconics; or, The Best Words of the Best Authors. […], volume I, Philadelphia, Pa.: [Mathew] Carey, [Isaac] Lea & [Henry Charles] Carey […], published 1829, OCLC 79140944, page 38:
- Death never happens but once, yet we feel it every moment of our lives. It is worse to apprehend than to suffer.
- 1863, Nathaniel Hawthorne, “Recollections of a Gifted Woman”, in Our Old Home: A Series of English Sketches, Boston, Mass.: Ticknor and Fields, OCLC 491366, page 140:
- I sometimes apprehend that our institutions may perish before we shall have discovered the most precious of the possibilities which they involve.
- To be of opinion, believe, or think; to suppose.
The words apprehend and comprehend both describe acts of the mind. However, while apprehend denotes grasping something mentally so as to understand it clearly, at least in part, comprehend denotes understanding something entirely. 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. In The Study of Words (1851), Richard Chenevix Trench explained the difference thus: “[…] 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”.
|present tense||past tense|
|2nd-person singular||apprehend, apprehendest*||apprehended, apprehendedst*|
|3rd-person singular||apprehends, apprehendeth*||apprehended|
- ^ “apprehenden, n.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
- ^ Compare “apprehend, v.”, in OED Online , Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, September 2021; “apprehend, v.”, in Lexico, Dictionary.com; Oxford University Press, 2019–present.
- ^ Richard Chenevix Trench (1851), “Lecture IV. On the Distinction of Words.”, in On the Study of Words: Five Lectures Addressed to the Pupils at the Diocesan Training School, Winchester, London: John W[illiam] Parker and Son, […], OCLC 156094813, page 111.