Can the verb "apprehend" used to mean "to check"?

I'm asking this because because I came across this sentence in my book:

Apprehending social and communal disharmony, the government banned Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh RSS and Jamait-e-Islami.

I think the author is trying to convey the sense of "check" through "apprehend"? Am I right? Because I didn't find any dictionary describing this usage of the verb.

5 Answers 5


apprehend (v):
1. Arrest (someone) for a crime.
2. Understand or perceive.

As with any "educated" vocabulary (in any language), using "apprehend" instead of "understand" in casual conversation may be considered erudite by some, but pretentious by others. You have to know your audience, and where it sounds appropriate. However it's not uncommon to see it written in articles, literature, essays, academic journals, and similar media.

That being said, I personally think this use in the example in your book is awkward. While "apprehend" can mean "perceive", the government isn't just noticing the social disharmony. It would be more natural to say that the government is expecting and avoiding social disharmony by preemptively banning these two, e.g.:

Anticipating social and communal disharmony, the government banned ...

or, alternately, that they are defusing the situation by banning the people they consider responsible:

Responding to social and communal disharmony, the government banned ...

There are many other ways to describe the situation, but I would be unlikely to use "apprehending" to do so.

Side note: "Comprehend" is a synonym for "understand" that (as Nic Hartley says) is slightly more educated but still very common. Again, it's not a word I would use in this context, but it's a lot less fancy than "apprehend".

  • I'd add a note about "comprehend", which is still fancier than "understand", but also more likely to be understood than "apprehend."
    – anon
    Jun 21, 2019 at 15:16
  • look at sense 2.1 under that lexico definition. Jun 21, 2019 at 18:34
  • @DavidSiegel marked as "archaic". 18th century English is not appropriate in a 21st century textbook.
    – Andrew
    Jun 21, 2019 at 18:44
  • As you will see from my answer, several other dictionaries do not label this sense as "archaic", nor do I agree with such a label. Indeed I have used this sense in my own writing. Even if this is thought "old-fashioned" it was common in the early 20 th century if not later. Jun 21, 2019 at 19:41
  • @DavidSiegel fair enough. If you would use it, then it's reasonable for this textbook to do the same. It seems odd to me, but I'll admit it's personal preference.
    – Andrew
    Jun 21, 2019 at 19:49

The usual meaning of "apprehend" is "understand or perceive". (dictionary link)

So I would interpret the sentence to mean "Understanding (how they could cause) social disharmony ..."

It doesn't mean "check", it means "get hold of" either physically or mentally.


A third meanign of "apprehend", as listed at dictionary.com, at Collins, at Wiktionary, at The free dictionary, and at Lexico is

to expect with anxiety, suspicion, or fear; anticipate:

apprehending violence.

The free dictionary and Lexico list this sense as "archaic", the others do not, and I don't think it is at all archaic. This sense is connected with 'apprehensive" = fearful. Some dictionaries do not give this sense at all.

It is exactly this sense that is being used here.


It seems like the author is using the word "apprehending" to mean "being apprehensive of". Although "apprehending" and "apprehensive" are obviously related, I'm certain that the vast majority of fluent English speakers would consider this particular usage to be incorrect or at least unfamiliar, although it has been identified as an "archaic" usage in this related answer Can you apprehend something instead of someone? .

At the very least, one can say that this usage is so rare that other meanings of "apprehending" come to mind first and tend to confuse the reader.


In addition to the correct and accepted answer pointing out the other meaning of apprehend (to understand or perceive), I am here to answer just the short version of the question: "Can you apprehend something instead of someone?" using just the first definition, as in the sense of being arrested for an alleged crime.

The answer is still yes, at least in some places.

As advice for a writer, I would tend to recommend "seizure" as a more accurate way to describe the practice. In the US (see John Oliver's introduction here), officials usually use the term "forfeiture" to [usually successfully] try to get around the 4th Amendment's restrictions. "Apprehend" is reasonably used when trying to imply any willingness in giving up (as "forfeit*" does) would be clearly counterproductive, yet "seizure" still needs to be avoided.

  • While Civil Forfeiture is indeed an often unjust procedure, it is not just a matter of terminology, and the legal consequences do not depend on the term used, although they cna depend on the legal route taken. Nor is it accurate to speak of apprehending or arresting things in a forfeiture case -- that is pure hyperbole. Regardless of that, this is in no way an answer to the original question. Jun 21, 2019 at 23:36
  • A "go fast" boat used in drug smuggling operations was "apprehended" as noted on p. 19 of a US treasury report on civil asset forfeiture. If some potential OP is seeing the word "apprehend" used for goods being seized, I would say it's a reasonable word choice given the constraints. And yes, no matter how ideal you'd like to think courts are, specific choice of words does matter on the scales of persuasion.
    – WBT
    Jun 23, 2019 at 22:57

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