What Does To Catch by Surprise Mean?

To Catch by Surprise Meaning

Definition: To surprise someone.

The English phrase to catch someone by surprise simply means to surprise someone when one is not expecting it.

In this phrase, surprise most often means to startle. It may also mean to surprise someone in a general way by doing or saying something he or she did not expect. This phrase can have a positive or negative connotation.

Ways to Use To Catch by Surprise

define catch by surpriseThe word catch has several meanings in English, both idiomatic and literal. One of its idiomatic meanings is to encounter a person in some way. Other English idioms that include the word catchto catch someone in the act, to catch someone red-handed, and catch me later–all use catch to refer to human interaction.

It is unclear when catch was first used in this context.

Just like most verb phrases in English, to catch someone by surprise can be used in any verb tense.

Examples of To Catch by Surprise

meaning of catch by surpriseThe verb surprise has a few slightly different meanings. Its most common meaning is to astonish someone with an action or revelation.

The phrase can be used to express that someone has physically startled someone else by appearing when he was not expecting it. However, it can also be used with its general meaning, which is to do or say something that someone else is not expecting.

The following interaction between two coworkers illustrates the correct use of this phrase.

Greta: Did you hear the boss has just resigned from the company?

Devin: Yeah, I did! Do you know what happened?

Greta: I only just saw the memo. It caught me by surprise. He was doing such a good job!

More Examples

  • Among those caught by surprise was Lukman Faily, a former ambassador to Washington, who said he would not be able to travel to the United States for upcoming conferences. –LA Times
  • But she is also reserved and private; her own son told the Associated Press that yesterday’s resignation caught him by surprise. –Washington Post


The English phrase to catch someone by surprise means to surprise or startle someone.