In the sentence above, is "grasp to my memory of..." wrong? It feels wrong, but I can't articulate why. I might say "grasp at my memory of" or perhaps omit the preposition all together.

I fear without a preposition though, it implies the memory was actually grasped, instead of implied movement towards/in the direction of. Odd because it's a metaphorical grasping, not that that should matter.

So what should it be? At, to, or nothing?

  • Maybe grasp onto my memory? – Kristina Lopez Aug 22 '13 at 19:01
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    @KristinaLopez Or even grasped my memory of? – Noah Aug 22 '13 at 19:50
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    Similar to cling to? – bib Aug 22 '13 at 20:04
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    I would assume the writer really just meant ‘cling’, getting his idioms slightly mixed up. If you grip the steering wheel the same way you grasp at a memory, you don't touch the steering wheel at all, which doesn't make any sense with the verb ‘grip’. I would understand this as, “I gripped the wheel like I cling to the memory: tightly”. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 22 '13 at 23:34

There are a few issues at play here. The most obvious is that the primary uses of grasp do not include to:

I grasped the object tightly.

You should grasp the object.

You can use at but it will invert the meaning:

I grasped at the object but it eluded me.

More information on the basic use of the word grasp can be found in your local dictionary.

A less obvious problem with the example sentence is that grasp has an extra meaning:

to get hold of mentally; comprehend; understand: I don't grasp your meaning.

The concept of grasping a memory invokes this meaning due to the non-tangible qualities of a memory. Without the simile:

I could not grasp my own memory.

This means that the memory was not understood. Adding the simile back in:

I grip the steering wheel like I grasp my memory of that day.

I grip the steering wheel like I [understand] my memory of that day.

The reader is essentially required to halt parsing and stare at the word grasp until they get that it was used as a figurative grasping of a physical object -- not as a statement of understanding.


I agree that something feels wrong with the sentence... perhaps it is the repeated use of I. Similes (you used the word like) are usually comparisons between dissimilar things, and the I grip and I grasp makes them sound similar. Try something like this:

I grip the steering wheel as powerfully as my recollection of that day.

Now we're comparing your grip to your recollection, so there is more of a separation.

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    This is writing advice rather than an answer to the question at hand — should it be "grasp to my memory", "grasp at my memory", or "grasp my memory"? – RegDwigнt Sep 22 '13 at 0:38

Welcome to EL&U. You might be interested in visiting Stack Exchange English for Language Learners.

Your sentence is a bit awkward. I think I know what you want to say:

You are driving along in your car, and an unpleasant memory springs to mind--a memory that is firmly etched in your mind. Suddenly you tense up and unconsciously grasp the steering wheel tightly as your emotions take over.

If so, perhaps you could reword your sentence to make the thought clearer.

As the memory of that day enters my mind once again, I find myself tensing up and grasping the steering wheel tightly.

People do not grasp at memories. Memories spring to mind, they pop into our minds, they revisit us, they intrude in our thoughts, they focus our attention, they distract us, and much more. They do not, however, grasp.

You can cling to a pleasant memory, or you can try to repress a bad memory. When a bad memory comes to mind or "sneaks up on you," you sometimes find yourself feeling angry, upset, embarrassed, or any number of emotions. These emotions may cause you to react physically by gripping tightly something you are holding when the memory intrudes in your mind.

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    "because it's metaphorical grasping..." – Noah Aug 22 '13 at 20:55
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    @Noah: Now you're grasping at straws--metaphorically speaking, of course! – rhetorician Aug 22 '13 at 21:00
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    Maybe people don't really grasp at memories, unless...a memory is quickly fading and someone is trying to hold onto it a little longer. – Kristina Lopez Aug 22 '13 at 22:22

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