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Could anyone help me with finding the difference between saying "catch a bus/train/etc" and "take a train/bus/etc"? I'm afraid I haven't been able to glean one from my dictionary.

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up vote 23 down vote accepted

Catching a bus describes the process of getting to a stop/station, waiting and boarding.

Taking a bus describes the entire process, including the journey itself.

Much of the time, the distinction isn't important. For example:

"How did you get to work today?"

"I caught a bus." (The listener infers that having caught the bus, you stay on it)

"I took the bus." (You have described the journey)

However, it could be relevant:

"I read a book while I was taking the bus" (yes: reading while the bus is moving)

"I read a book while I was catching the bus" (unlikely: reading while stepping onto the bus, paying the driver, etc.)

It is a similar meaning to catch as catching a fish, or catching a ball. You and the bus are apart, and then you bring yourself into contact with it through your own effort. If you try to catch a bus, and fail, you miss it.

One other thing, you catch a bus at a specific place:

"You can catch the bus to Coventry on Smith Street"

But you take the bus from a place:

"You can take the bus to Coventry from Smith Street"

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In American English, "take" is usually premeditated -- you made plans to be at the stop at such-and-such time, bought a ticket in advance, etc. "Catch" has more of an "in the moment" sense -- you had started to walk to work but caught a bus that was going by, for example.

For British English, see the comment from @slim.

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In British English, at least, I disagree. "How shall we get to London next week?" "I've looked at the timetable, and I think we should catch the 10:49". – slim Jan 5 '12 at 16:49
@slim thanks, I didn't know that. I'll edit my answer. – Monica Cellio Jan 5 '12 at 19:41
I think that "spur of the moment" interpretation comes from conflation with "catch a cab", for example. A couple of minutes in Google Books doesn't give me the impression American usage is any different to British. – FumbleFingers Jan 6 '12 at 2:49

The sixth definition of the verb catch is listed as: to be in time to get aboard a train, boat, etc.

Whereas for the verb take you have to make your way down to definitions number 46 and 47 to read:

46) to use as a means of transportation: to take a bus to the ferry.
47) to get on or board (a means of transportation) at a given time or in a given place: She takes the train at Scarsdale.

You can either catch or take the:

  • train
  • bus / coach
  • boat / ship
  • ferry
  • plane

These means of public transport will stop and pick up passengers waiting at a platform, bus stop, harbour, port or at an airport gate. To catch also evokes the image of a person running towards that stop, platform etc. in order to board the transport.

Until the 1980s many of London's double-decker buses —Routemasters—, had an open rear platform with a sturdy pole attached that allowed passengers to "hop-on" and "hop-off". It was a common spectacle to see people running and grabbing hold of the pole as the bus moved away from the stop. Therefore, literally catching the bus at that moment. The last Routemasters were withdrawn from regular service in December 2005.

You take the:

  • bike
  • motorcycle/motorbike
  • car
  • van
  • taxi/cab *

The above are not usually considered means of public transport as these vehicles do not stop at specific locations to pick up passengers. However, some speakers might say "catch a taxi" in place of the idiom hail a taxi, which I believe, is becoming rare.

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"To catch the bus" originated from the original method of hopping onto a moving bus. You had to "catch" the bar and running board of the bus in order to ride it. Circa 1920.

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The meaning common to "catch" and "take" in these idiom is "travel by". And there is very little difference. If there is one, it's in the tone. "Take" implies you have control over the mode of transportation; "catch" implies you have to fit your schedule to it. So if you were writing fictional dialog, a more dynamic character might "take" whereas a more passive character might "catch".

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protected by tchrist Aug 13 '14 at 14:41

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