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Fun with synonyms - “to grab/catch/capture”

From my current understanding, 捕らえる means 'to capture', while 捕まえる is used to mean 'to arrest'. Is this correct? And is 捕まる its passive?


2 Answers 2


I'll cite some dictionary entries that should give some insight:


(1)人や動物を取りおさえて逃げないようにする。つかまえる。 「犯人を―・える」「獲物を―・える」「密漁船を―・える」 (2)手でしっかりつかむ。握る。 「手を―・える」「レンブラントの絵に心を―・えられる」「逃げて入る袖を―・へ給へば/竹取」



(1)逃げないようにとりおさえる。《捕》 「トンボを―・える」「犯人を―・える」 (2)手でにぎって離さないようにする。《掴・捉》 「子供の手を―・える」「風を―・えるような話」 (3)その場に留める。呼び止める。 「廊下で―・えて立ち話する」「タクシーを―・える」

Judging from the dictionary entries, these are basically the same, with つかまえる being in the first definition of とらえる. You may notice, however, that these words have alternate kanji, and the choice of kanji can affect the nuance. For example, definition 2 of つかまえる only applies to the other two kanji. So with this particular kanji the two words appear to be more or less the same.

Some question sites have some other interpretations from regular people, though, who have their own insights about the differences.

Like here, for example, where someone offers this distinction:




Basically the distinction is that つかまえる emphasizing that you use your hands or arms to catch something, whereas in とらえる the emphasis is on the capture, and the prevention of escape. とらえる is stronger than つかまえる. For example, you would つかまえる a bug or a small animal, but not とらえる. There's more explanation on that page too. It seems reliable to me.

And yes, 捕まる is just the intransitive verb.

  • 2
    Any reason for the -1?
    – ssb
    Nov 22, 2012 at 5:16
  • Can you explain a bit about the use of J-J dictionaries? How did you understand from the definitions that there's more then one common kanji?
    – Nescio
    Nov 22, 2012 at 7:39
  • @Nescio The markers/abbreviations used differ but there will be something called 凡例 which explains what the meanings are. Alternate kanji will be listed at the top of the entry, usually with markers that show if they are non-joyo or joyo with non-joyo readings. If there are multiple meanings/uses, some might have notes suggesting which kanji to use for which meaning. For example, if you look up みる, one meaning is something like "to examine", in a medical sense. This meaning has the note (「診る」とも書く) next to it, basically meaning 'is also written 診る.'
    – nkjt
    Nov 22, 2012 at 16:26

Like many other 漢字 "捕" has different pronunciations:

  • [捕]{と}る (passive: [捕]{と}らえる)
  • [捕]{つか}まる (passive: [捕]{つか}まえる)

Both have the same meaning of catching as in "The cat catch the mouse." or "The cop catch the thief."

As a note, とる as "take" is one of these verbs that has many 漢字 with nuance in each use. The main used 漢字 for とる are:

  • 取る: take in hand
  • 採る: hire someone, collect fruits
  • 捕る: catch, grip
  • 執る: take a pen, take actions
  • 撮る: take a picture

Of course the line is not that clear, and some 漢字 can be exchanged with others depending on the context.

  • What about 摂る? 「食事を摂る」?
    – user1478
    Nov 23, 2012 at 9:17
  • Nice catch. That's why I used "main" :). The とる reading for 摂 is not part of the 常用漢字, so I shortened it here.
    – Eric
    Nov 23, 2012 at 9:23

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