1

The 2 dictionaries gave the 2 opposite definitions

catch your breath: ​to stop breathing for a moment because of fear, shock, etc.

When he said he had resigned, I caught my breath in surprise.


catch your breath: to start breathing normally again after running or making a lot of effort

Slow down, I need to catch my breath.

I felt that British and American people use "catch your breath" differently. In British English, "catch your breath" means to stop breathing but In American English, it means to start bathing again.

However, I am not sure if it is true.

Does "catch your breath" mean either "stop breathing" or "start breathing again"?

Also, what is the difference between "catch your breath" and "hold your breath"?

1 Answer 1

2

Your summation of the Oxford's definition is misleading. The full form documents both meanings:

catch your breath

  • ​to stop breathing for a moment because of fear, shock, etc.

    When he said he had resigned, I caught my breath in surprise. ​- (also get your breath (again/back) British English)

    to start to be able to breathe normally again after running or doing exercise that makes you tired

...and a few dozen lines lower...

get your breath (again/back) (British English)
(also catch your breath North American English, British English)

  ​to breathe normally again after running or doing exercise that makes you tired

    I needed a few minutes to get my breath back after the run.
    She paused to catch her breath.

Addressing your points/questions:

In British English, "catch your breath" means to stop breathing but In American English, it means to start bathing again.

In British English, it can mean either - but it's pretty obvious which is intended in the example sentences above. Just consider whether the situation involves shock/surprise that would cause a sudden, unplanned interruption to breathing (possibly with a sharp inhalation, or just stopping), or whether there's been intense exercise so someone would need a rest to gradually slow breathing to normal rhythm/volume.

Also, what is the difference between "catch your breath" and "hold your breath"?

Even in the "stop breathing" sense, "catch your breath" implies a sudden, involuntary or instinctive reaction. "I heard the killer's footsteps outside the door and caught my breath, freezing in place". "hold you breath" sounds more premeditated or deliberate - "I would have to hold my breath for 20 seconds to swim that far underwater".

1
  • 2
    The Longman link also gives both definitions, if you scroll down a bit (and the examples include both usages). Dec 17, 2021 at 9:18

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .