What Does To Catch On To Something Mean?

Catch On to Something Meaning

Definition: To solve a problem or understand something; to become popular or accepted; to get snagged on an object.

The phrase to catch on to something is slightly different to most English idioms in that it has a few different meanings. The meaning will vary based on the context. Although this phrase may be slightly confusing for listeners, its meaning when used in context should be relatively easy to decipher.

It is unclear where or how the multiple meanings of this phrase originated. The meanings of to catch on in both the problem-solving and popularity contexts were first used around the 1880s. It is unclear when to catch on was first used to express becoming snagged on an object.

Ways to Use To Catch on to Something

meaning of catch on to somethingThere are a few idiomatic meaning of catch on. The most literal meaning is to become snagged on something. To catch on can also mean to solve a problem. Another meaning of catch on is to become popular; this is most often used in reference to trends or products.

Examples of To Catch on to Something

Context clues can be extremely helpful when determining the meaning.

If someone is walking and his shirt snags on a door handle, he might exclaim,

  • Ah! I hate getting caught on this doorknob!

define catch onIf a teacher uses to catch on in a problem-solving context, he might say,

  • Jake was struggling with addition. After I had taught him to use his fingers to count, he caught on pretty quickly.

If someone uses to catch on to discuss how a product or trend became popular, he might say,

  • The iPhone caught on pretty quickly with consumers because it revolutionized productivity.

More Examples

  • “My joy is in the classroom,” Stephanie told me afterward. “When they catch on to something and they have those ‘aha’ moments.” –NPR
  • The Haven Brewpub off of Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena has a lengthy list of taps and bottles, and craft fans around L.A. are starting to catch on to the excellent house-brewed beers. –LA Times


The English phrase to catch on to something has a variety of meanings. The meaning of this expression will vary based on the context in which it is used.