Here's a question for you experts. I've actually asked this to my Japanese friends, but I want to see how you guys answer too.

Explain the differences in the following verbs and which one(s) appear more commonly in everyday speech:

  1. [掴]{つか}む
  2. [捕]{と}る
  3. [捕]{と}らえる
  4. [捕]{と}らえられる - passive
  5. [捕]{つか}まえる
  6. [捕]{つか}まえられる - passive
  7. [捕]{と}らわれる
  8. [捕]{つか}まる - see update below

Update - 2012/05/08: Looking back at this question after all this time, I knew there was a reason I was including the passive verbs (4 and 6 above). It's because I left a verb out of my original set: [捕]{つか}まる. So then the question with the passives is, what's the difference between 捕まる, 捕らえられる, and 捕まえられる?

Based on @Derek Schaab's answer below, it seems that 捕らえられる would mostly apply to animals/things that "are caught". But which would be the most correct/natural way to say "The criminal was finally caught"?


2 Answers 2


Ignoring the passives, which can be inferred:

  • 掴む: grasp. 腕を掴む. The action ends once your hand closes on the object. This is in contrast to 握る, which focuses on the time spent gripping the object after it has been taken in the hand.
  • 捕る: capture, as in an animal. 魚を捕る. Can be substituted with 捕獲する. (There are many kanji for とる, the choice of which depends on the object, as I'm sure you know.)
  • 捕らえる: (also) capture, or subdue. (But I usually see this written as 捉える, preceded by と, and meaning "perceive, see/recognize/take (as)": 好機と捉える.)
  • 捕まえる: prevent something from running away, hold tight to something without any intention of letting go. Can be both physical (犯人を捕まえる) or abstract (人の心を捕まえる).
  • 捕らわれる: be bound/taken captive by something (often abstract). 恐怖に捕らわれる.
  • 3
    捕まえる is what Pokemon uses, if that helps you solidify its meaning!
    – sartak
    Jun 1, 2011 at 15:48
  • @sartak: Good example. I think (but I would need to do some more research to be sure) that the difference between 捕まえる and 捕る boils down to whether the thing to be captured is actively trying to avoid being captured (if it is, then 捕まえる is more natural). Jun 1, 2011 at 16:02
  • if outside of that 好機 kanyōku, I always see the former usage of kanji. Otherwise, great explanation!
    – syockit
    Jun 2, 2011 at 0:01
  • @syockit: 捕らえる and 捉える differ in that 捕らえる usually refers to physically capturing something, while 捉える refers to "mentally" capturing something (a concept). I usually see the latter, but this probably has more to do with my choice of reading material more than which is actually more common. Jun 2, 2011 at 12:20
  • good point. I always see it used by villains ordering their henchmen to capture a target, hence the former.
    – syockit
    Jun 2, 2011 at 13:50

This is just a guess to answer your updated challenge based on then entries in the プログレッシブ dictionary.

Whereas 捕らえる puts the emphasis on the capture of a criminal, 捕まえる can be used to refer to either the capture (捕らえる) or the detaining (引き留める).

In your question you made the criminal the subject and used the word やっと to mean finally caught: The emphasis seems to on the capture not the detention so 捕らえられた is least ambiguous but if one is better 捕まる feels more natural.

犯人は[警察に]やっと捕まった。||The criminal was finally caught [by the police].

If the criminal was the object then (I think) the following, which is based on an example in the dictionary, is also natural:

警察はやっと犯人を捕らえた。|The police finally caught the criminal.

I look forward to being corrected.

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