A drowning man will catch a straw. (also correct?)

A drowning man will catch at a straw. (a commonly used and fixed expression: maxim)

'catch a straw' is also idiomatic? You know the verb 'catch' is both transitive and intransitive.

question is: catch a straw is also acceptable?

  • 1
    What do you mean by "correct". You have spelled "drowning" wrong, and the proverb is usually "will clutch at a straw". en.wiktionary.org/wiki/a_drowning_man_will_clutch_at_a_straw (It's not very common) Do you understand the metaphorical meaning of the proverb? Do you want to know if your version is a variant of the proverb, or grammatically correct.
    – James K
    Apr 2, 2022 at 6:35
  • I learned that "A drowning man will catch at a straw." and wonder if 'catch a straw' can replace 'catch at a straw'.
    – gomadeng
    Apr 2, 2022 at 6:48
  • 1
    You have the proverb wrong.
    – James K
    Apr 2, 2022 at 7:00

2 Answers 2


Despite what other people have told you catch at a straw is the older form of the proverb, and is still heard, though clutch at a straw is more common now. See here.

Catch at is not normally used today, but has an implication of trying to reach but not succeeding. If you said catch a straw, that implies that the person has successfully caught the straw. Logically, this is just as uselss as failing to, since a straw will be no help to a drowning man; but to my ear catch a straw lacks the sense of desperation I hear in catch at a straw.


You have the proverb wrong. It should be "A drowning man will clutch at a straw." It means that a desperate person will try anything, even if it is unlikely to help."

There's no grammar error in "... catch a straw" but that's not the proverb.

If you "clutch at a straw" you reach and try to grab it but unsuccessfully. If you "catch a straw" you succeed in grasping a straw that has been thrown. So the meaning is different.

It's not a particularly common proverb in its full form, though expressions like "he's clutching at straws" are common enough.

  • In my experience, for US English the more common idiom would probably be "grasping at straws", though obviously "clutching" would be understood as well.
    – kuhl
    May 9, 2022 at 4:43

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