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Is there a difference between 'catch someone doing something' and 'find someone doing something?'

My brother always wakes up late. I said: "If I find you sleeping at this time from tomorrow I'm not going to help you with your homework anymore."

I wonder what difference it would make if I said 'catch' instead of 'find.'

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There is no real difference in usage, but catch has a heavy connotation of a mis-deed of some sort, i.e. that you think that sleeping this late is wrong, whereas find is completely neutral.

In your longer example, I would indeed use catch rather than find since it is clear that you regard it as unacceptable.

  • I would say that catch has more of an implication that it's only by chance that you see the person misbehaving. – Kate Bunting Jun 22 '20 at 8:24
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    @Mike. We responded at exactly the same time, but then I went to make a coffee before I hit send. Your response fits the bill, so I'm not suggesting yours is lacking in any way by saying pretty much the same. – Bruce Murray Jun 22 '20 at 8:34
  • @KateBunting Catch is also used in deliberate contexts, such as catching a criminal – Mike Brockington Jun 22 '20 at 8:37
  • I know that, of course, but I was referring to 'catching someone doing something'. – Kate Bunting Jun 22 '20 at 11:56
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Compare these two sentences:

I walked into my son's bedroom and found him reading a book

I walked into my son's bedroom and caught him looking at porn.

(the obvious conclusion is that I should have knocked!)

Catch implies to encounter someone who is in the act of doing something that is considered wrong.

So, is your brother aware that sleeping late is a problem for you? In your example, using catch is correct if it is inappropriate for him to be sleeping at that time.

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