I asked someone “I hope we catch up soon” and he imagined himself being lightly or violently tossed in the air hoping someone will catch him. Obviously a non-native English speaker.

Is there a term for this phrase or type of misunderstanding? Are there other examples of this?

4 Answers 4


This is called an idiom. An idiom is a phrase that has a figurative meaning that differs from the literal definitions of the individual words.

Here is a list of english idioms. Several variations of "catch up" are on the list.

  • "Conflicts?" Always conflicts? Necessarily conflicts? Citation, please :-) Apr 8, 2011 at 20:55
  • "Conflicts" was a poor word choice. I've rephrased my answer.
    – dbyrne
    Apr 8, 2011 at 20:58
  • An idiom is a phrase THAT has a meaning ... Pedantically yours, Apr 8, 2011 at 20:59
  • I think a little pedantry is to be expected on an "English Language & Usage" site.
    – dbyrne
    Apr 8, 2011 at 21:08

There could possibly be an occlusion of "...to [object in question]..." in the phrase "catch up..." In that case, it would make sense to use "up to", as it would be demonstrative of a spatial orientation between two objects (namely, the speaker in question in relation to the person whom he/she/they is/are trying to catch [up to]). Therefore, using "catch" is practically the same when applied to people or spherical objects, but adding "up [to]" adds the notion of two objects approaching one another.

  • I totally misread the actual question at hand. Please refer to dbyrne's post.
    – user7137
    Apr 8, 2011 at 20:50
  • I upvoted you because your answer was a tongue-in-cheek complete hoot! So please delete your comment! Apr 8, 2011 at 20:57

Catch up is a phrasal verb and so the two words should not be separated in this context.

Therefore, we are not dealing with the word catch as in catch the ball,

but rather catch up as in If you run fast enough, you might catch up to the others.

Here, catch up means to close a gap between yourself and someone who is ahead of you.

When we use it in this sense, we are catching up to the time that has passed; Since last I saw you, many things could have happened to me so my 'life story', in a way, has moved on from what you know. When you meet me and I tell you what has been going on, I catch you up, meaning 'bring you up-to-date'.

The important thing then to realise is that catch and catch up are not the same.


Oh man :-) How to translate the idiom that has no translation?

"I hope that, in the fullness of time, our Red Sox boys may regain an equality vis-à-vis their Yankee opponents with respect to score." Or

"we will, one fervently hopes, find ourselves co-located with our friends whose breathtaking pace has outstripped us and left us here; and soon."

How would you translate "catch me up"? "I'm going ahead to catch the Red Sox - Yankees game at the barroom down the street? Catch me up!"

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