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grab +‎ -le


  • IPA(key): /ˈɡɹæbl̩/
  • Hyphenation: grab‧ble


grabble (third-person singular simple present grabbles, present participle grabbling, simple past and past participle grabbled)

  1. (intransitive) To search with one's hands and fingers; to attempt to grasp something.
    Synonyms: fumble, grope, grubble, root, rummage; see also Thesaurus:feel around
    • 1614, John Taylor, Water-Worke: or, The Sculler’s Travels, Dedication, in All the Works of John Taylor the Water Poet, London: James Boler, 1630, reprinted for the Spenser Society, 1869,[4]
      Ile grable for Gudgeons or fish for Flounders in the Rereward of our eminent temporizing Humorists, sharpe Satyrists, or Ænigmaticall Epigramatists.
    • 1689, John Selden, Table-Talk, London: E. Smith, “Presbytery,” pp. 48-49,[5]
      [] when he should come to pay his Reckoning he puts his hands into his Pockets, and keeps a grabling and a fumbling, and shaking, at last tells you he has left his Money at home; when all the company knew at first, he had no Money there, for every man can quickly find his own Money.
    • 1741, Samuel Richardson, Pamela, London: C. Rivington and J. Osborn, Volume 1, Letter 31, p. 202,[6]
      He has only a few Scratches on his Face; which, said she, I suppose he got by grabbling among the Gravel, at the bottom of the Dam, to try to find a Hole in the Ground, to hide himself from the Robbers.
    • 1887, Oscar Wilde, “The Canterville Ghost,” Chapter III, in Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime & Other Stories, London: James R. Osgood, McIlvaine and Co., 1891, p. 113,[7]
      A few hollow groans from the wardrobe, he thought, would be more than sufficient, or, if that failed to wake her, he might grabble at the counterpane with palsy-twitching fingers.
    • 1959, William Arrowsmith (translator), The Satyricon of Petronius, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, Chapter 16, p. 157,[8]
      [] we see beneath the digger’s spade
      earth spill her hidden treasures out, and greedy hands
      go grabbling after gold,
  2. (intransitive, obsolete) To search in a similar way using an implement.
    • 1727, Peter Longueville, The Hermit, Westminster: T. Warner and B. Creake, Book 3, p. 181,[9]
      [] he proposes to spend the Afternoon at the Out-side of the Rock, in viewing the Sea, and looking for Oysters; so takes in his Hand his long Staff to grabble in Holes []
  3. (transitive) To touch (someone) with one's hands or fingers, sometimes in a sexual way.
    Synonyms: feel up, fondle, grope; see also Thesaurus:fondle
    • 1719, Thomas d'Urfey, “Willey’s Intreague” in Wit and Mirth: or Pills to Purge Melancholy, London: J. Tonson, 1876 reprint, p. 195,[10]
      When Nelly tho’ he teiz’d her,
      And Grabbled her and Squeez’d her,
      Cry’d, stay a little, I vow and swear I could kill ye,
      Another touch I can bear ye,
    • 2006, Ruth Francisco, The Secret Memoirs of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis: A Novel, New York: St. Martin’s Press, “The Manikin,” p. 299,[11]
      I struggle, confused, frightened, which he mistakes for excitement, grabbling my breasts, scrubbing them in circles as he plunges his tongue.
    • 2008, Lisa Gabriele, The Almost Archer Sisters, New York: Simon & Schuster, Chapter 4, p. 47,[12]
      “Come here, boys, and let your gorgeous auntie grabble her hairy little monkeys!”
  4. (transitive) To pick (something or someone) up hastily, roughly or clumsily.[1]
    Synonyms: grab, seize, snatch
    • 1837, [Edward Bulwer-Lytton], chapter X, in Ernest Maltravers [] , volume I, London: Saunders and Otley, [], OCLC 1181337800, book I, page 99:
      [H]e did so stare at the money, that I vows I thought he'd have rin away with it from the counter—so I grabbled it up, and went away.
    • 1895, Stephen Crane, “A Mystery of Heroism” in Maggie: A Girl of the Streets and Selected Stories, New York: Signet, 1991, p. 119,[13]
      He grabbled one of the canteens and, unfastening its cap, swung it down by the cord.
    • 1915, Carolyn Wells, The White Alley, Philadelphia: Lippincott, Chapter 11,[14]
      “When Cave Men carry off little girls,” she said, “do they throw them over their shoulders,—or just grabble them up under their arms?”
    • 1934, Angela Thirkell, The Demon in the House, Part 3, Chapter 5,[15]
      “Mother,” said Tony, “you know that spanner that got into the water-butt the day I had my bandaged ankle? It’s here; we can feel it. Can I put on my bathing dress and grabble it up with my feet?”
    • 1962, Meidert DeJong, The Singing Hill, New York: Harper & Row, Chapter 7, p. 110,[16]
      He [] pulled out one of the apples and rolled it under the fence to the horse. The horse grabbled it up with quivering lips.
  5. (transitive) To attempt to grab; to grasp at (something).
    Synonyms: clutch, grip; see also Thesaurus:grasp
    • 1989, Nick Cave, And the Ass Saw the Angel, New York: HarperPaperbacks, 1992, Book 2, Chapter 12, p. 228,[17]
      The flailing mob of forty-fold took turns at throwing, each trying to lasso the sinking beast as it grabbled the air in blind terror in an attempt to keep its forelegs above the surface.
  6. (transitive) To pull, lift or dig (something) (out of the ground) by searching with one's hands and fingers.[2]
    Synonym: grub
    • 1865, W. W. McCarty, “History of Captain W. W. McCarty’s Prison Life, and Southern Prisons,” in History of the 78th Regiment O.V.V.I., Zanesville, OH: Hugh Dunne, p. 302,[18]
      [] Harry went into the potato patch and grabbled us some sweet potatoes []
    • 1902, Martha McCulloch-Williams, Next to the Ground: Chronicles of a Countryside, New York: McClure, Philips, Chapter 9, pp. 203-204,[19]
      Going through the woods, he grabbled acorns from under the snow, thinking to fling them in the hogshead, and find out if the jays would really eat them.
    • 1910, J. C. Cooper (ed.), Walnut Growing in Oregon, Passenger Department, Portland, OR: Oregon Railroad and Navigation Co., Southern Pacific Company Lines in Oregon, p. 17,[20]
      One grower had a bed of hybrid black walnuts. The season was late and when the ground was ready for planting many had started to grow. He engaged some boys to grabble out the nuts from the sand beds, urging care, but many of the best were broken and injured.
    • 1924, United States Department of Labor, Child Labor and the Work of Mothers on Norfolk Truck Farms, Bureau Publication No. 30, Washington: Government Printing Office, p. 11,[21]
      The potatoes [] are then lifted out of the soil by hand—“scratched,” “graveled,” or “grabbled” out, according to the idioms of the colored workers []
    • 1956, William L. Crosthwait and Ernest G. Fischer, The Last Stitch, Philadelphia: Lippincott, “Off to the War,” p. 194,[22]
      I said, “Uncle, how would you like to be up in that airplane?”
      He said, “No, sah, I never wants to be higher than picking peaches and no lower than grabbling goobers.”
  7. (transitive, obsolete) To lift (something) out in a similar way using an implement.
    • 1596, William Clowes, A Profitable and Necessarie Booke of Obseruations, London: Thomas Dawson, “The cure of Lues Venerea,” p. 181,[23]
      [] set all these togither on the fire, & boile them till the wine and water be consumed, and that the flesh and bones be separated a sunder, that you may with a paire of tongs grabble out the bones from the rest, thus let it be taken off and pressed through a piece of canuas, and keepe it to your use.
  8. (transitive, intransitive, now Southeastern US) To catch fish by reaching into the water with one's hand.
    Synonym: noodle
    • 1868, J. C. Wilcocks, The Sea-Fisherman, London: Longmans, Green, 2nd edition, p. 125,[24]
      You will also take many Flounders [] without a boat, in the drains and watercourses of embanked lands, and even with your hands, for the fish will often seek shelter under your feet if wading; this latter method is termed ‘Grabbling.’
    • 1911, S. J. Kennerly, The Story of Sam Tag, New York: The Cosmopolitan Press, Chapter 14, p. 149,[25]
      “Now watch me,” said Uncle Huse, “and I’ll show you how to grabble fish.” Slowly his hand went down among the fish. “Look,” said he, “I am going to yank out de larges’.”
    • 1930, William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying, New York: Vintage, 1964, “Vardaman,” p. 143,[26]
      [] in the water she could go faster than a man and Darl had to grabble for her []
    • 1994, Clyde Bolton, The Lost Sunshine, Montgomery, AL: Black Belt Press, Chapter 1, p. 12,[27]
      I told her about grabbling—reaching under rocks at the shoals of the river and pulling out catfish.
  9. (transitive, intransitive, obsolete) To fish on the grabble.
    • 1840, uncredited author, The Sportsman in Ireland, with His Summer Tour through the Highlands of Scotland, London: Henry Colburn, Volume 2, Chapter 8, p. 109,[28]
      It was just after such a day that I grabbled fifty of the best salmon I ever saw—all fresh run from the sea.
  10. (transitive, intransitive) To utter inarticulate sounds, often quickly and loudly; to say (something) quickly, idly or foolishly.
    Synonyms: babble, gabble, gibber, jabber
    • 1868, Sheridan Le Fanu, “Squire Toby’s Will” in Best Ghost Stories of J. S. Le Fanu, New York: Dover, 1964, p. 17,[29]
      [] there was instantly a dreadful confusion and uproar in the room, and such a grabbling and laughing; he could not catch the words []
    • 1941, Ngaio Marsh, Death of a Peer, New York: Jove Books, 1980, Chapter 17, p. 253,[30]
      “We are very grateful to you for coming, sir,” said Alleyn.
      “Not at all, not at all,” grabbled Mr. Rattisbon. “Shocking affair. Dreadful.”
    • 1979, Lawrence Kamarck, Informed Sources, New York: Dial, Chapter 14, p. 120,[31]
      Who the hell were all these bastards? Grabbling like a bunch of monkeys, talking gibberish.
  11. (intransitive, obsolete) To lie prostrate; to sprawl on the ground.
    Synonym: grovel
    • 1584, uncredited translator (attributed to Barnabe Rich), The Famous Hystory of Herodotus, London: Thomas Marshe, Book 2,[32]
      [] they conduct hym to the hygh way that leadeth to the temple of the goddesse Ceres, where after they haue placed hym, they leaue hym grabling in that place, and departe their waye.
    • 1637, James Day, “On contempt of the World” in A New Spring of Divine Poetrie, London: Humphry Blunden, p. 40,[33]
      A Loft O Soule; soare up, doe not turmoyle
      Thy selfe by grabbling on a dunghill soyle:
    • 1679, John Bunyan, A Treatise of the Fear of God, London: N. Ponder, p. 201,[34]
      And this is the reason that we so often lie grabling under the black, and amazing thoughts that are engendred in our hearts by unbelief:

Derived terms[edit]



grabble (uncountable)

  1. (obsolete) A method of fishing using a line with several hooks fastened to it along with a lead weight so that the hooks sit on the bottom.[3]
    To lay / fish (up)on the grabble
    • 1740, John Williamson (compiler), The British Angler, London: J. Hodges, Chapter 11, p. 223,[35]
      Some advise to angle for the common Eel upon the Grabble []


  1. ^ Francis Grose, A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, London: Hooper and Wigstead, 1796, 3rd edition: “TO GRABBLE. To seize.”[1]
  2. ^ B. W. Green, Virginia Folk-Speech, Richmond, 1899, p. 166: “Grabble, v. To dig out of the ground with the hands.”[2]
  3. ^ T. F. Salter, The Angler’s Guide, London: Sherwood, 1825, pp. 367-368.[3]




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  1. inflection of grabbeln:
    1. first-person singular present
    2. first/third-person singular subjunctive I
    3. singular imperative