What does this phrasal verb mean: 'to catch on'? Is it an idiom?

This came up in another topic.

What he meant was “Now I get it !” “Now I understand the term”.

To “catch on” cannot be applied to understanding a word.
It means: “understand the situation”, or “understand why things are happening in a certain way”, or “how serious the situation is”.
It is similar to the expression “Cop on” which mean “be sensible” or “be street-wise”
Here in Ireland we might tell someone to: “have some cop-on”

It is normally used without saying exactly what has to be understood. That can be taken as understood. If it has to be explained the person will never “catch on”.

One might say to someone “Catch on!” or “Catch on to yourself” meaning “Be aware of the problems here”, or “Be responsible!”

Here in Ireland one might say “Catch yourself on” .
Can anybody tell me is it used this way outside of Ireland ?

“Catch on” can also mean “become popular”.
Yu-Gi-Oh cards have really caught on among kids here in Dublin(speaking very locally).

Native Hiberno English speaker

This is totally off topic, Art, but I just wanted to say that it’s nice to see your face.

The background of luscious greenery is a good representation of your ‘winter land’ or Emerald Isle!

And thanks for your interesting post, too.

Thanks a million!

Now I get it! :lol:

But why can it be used with concepts and not
with terms?

I saw an example this week.

“He didn?t catch on to new concepts easily”

Or is “catch on to” a phrasal verb?

Thanks a lot!


Hi Jesus

That should have been “He didn’t grasp new concept easily”

Hi!. How do you feel?

Thanks again!

I looked up the phrasal verb in the dictionary, and
actually means “grasp” but mentally.

In ESL texts you can find that sentence.

“He didn?t catch on to new concepts easily”

Is it wrong then? :oops:

I understood it, anyway!.

Thanks a lot!


Hi Jesus,
It is correct to say it means “grasp”, but the point is: it is a colloquial expression, like slang. The issue or concept which is to be grasped, “be caught on to”, is never stated explicitly, it is only implied.
If it has to be explained then the speaker would use a different expression or construction.
Something like “Can you not grasp the fact that you need to look at this differently” or
“Can you not grasp the fact that we have a problem here”
in other words: “Wise up”, “Cop on”, or “Catch yourself on”

Colloquial: characteristic of or appropriate to ordinary or familiar conversation rather than formal speech or writing; informal.