Why is it that I'm getting overwhelmingly more results for "clutching at his chest" than for "clutching his chest"? Can you suggest any good reason? Here is an example:

Walking again in the long corridor he felt his heart racing. He leaned on the wall clutching at his chest.

Here, the guy isn't really having a heart attack. Is this usage still good?

  • 4
    Clutching X usually means grasping X firmly in your hand. Obviously you can't actually hold your own chest in your hand - but to clutch at X works because that conveys the sense of convulsively/eagerly grabbing, pawing at something (with outstretched fingers, which figuratively would "enclose X in the hand*, even though it's not literally possible). Mar 7, 2015 at 16:21
  • 1
    @Drew: I think ELU is for people who know standard English. I'd have "answered" on English Language Learners, but here I think a comment and/or closevote are all that's required. Mar 7, 2015 at 16:30
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers: OK, but see what kinds of answers will be posted. It seems to me that if the question is OT then it should be closed. If it is not OT then answers are appropriate here. And your comment is a good answer (IMO).
    – Drew
    Mar 7, 2015 at 16:32
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers does this not qualify again? aren't you being strict? and on another note, when I clutch something, I don't expect to "enclose" it within my hand. The difference I can sense is that "clutching at" conveys a repeated attempt, and clutching is more or less grabbing, digging fingers in or something.
    – joeav
    Mar 7, 2015 at 16:34
  • 1
    I think I'm just being sensible, not strict. ELL was specifically created to meet the needs of people in your situation, it being the intention that ELU should be for linguists, etymologists, and {serious} English language enthusiasts Mar 7, 2015 at 16:45

1 Answer 1


Oxford Dictionary says:

clutch ~ at sb/sth to take hold of sth suddenly, because you are afraid or in pain

  • 1
    sb/sth = somebody/something Mar 7, 2015 at 20:17
  • And simply to clutch?
    – wys1wyg
    Mar 10, 2015 at 21:32

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.