Intermediate+ Word of the Day: snatch

snatch (verb, noun) /snæt/ LISTEN

A robber is snatching a woman's purse.

To snatch means ‘to grab something quickly and with a sudden movement,’ usually in quite an eager way. It is also used figuratively, meaning ‘to take or get something quickly.’ Informally, it is also used as a synonym for kidnap. As a noun, a snatch is a sudden movement to grab something and the act of grabbing it. It is also a tiny piece or part of something or a short amount of time or effort.

Example sentences

  • The dog snatched the food from Neil's hand.
  • We managed to snatch a few moments alone so I could tell him my secret.
  • The parents were terrified when their child was snatched.
  • Tom held the sweets just out of the reach of his sister, who kept making snatches at them.
  • My neighbors are yelling at each other again; even though the walls are thick, I can still hear snatches of their argument.
  • I've been ill this week, but I've still managed to get some work done in snatches.

Words often used with snatch

snatch something away: to remove something suddenly. Example: “Phil snatched his hand away from Molly’s when she told him about her affair.”

snatch victory from the jaws of defeat: to win something at the last minute. Example: “The team was trailing by 15 points with just 10 minutes to go, but they managed to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and went on to win the game!”

In pop culture

Snatch is the title of a British movie, directed by Guy Ritchie, and you can see the trailer here:

Did you know?

In UK English a snatch is also an informal term for a robbery. Example: “The thieves planned the wages snatch carefully and it went off with no problems.”

The term purse snatcher (in the US) or bag snatcher (in the UK) is used to talk about a robber who steals handbags by snatching them. Example: “The purse snatcher preyed on shoppers who were preoccupied with their purchases.”

Other forms

snatcher (noun), snatchable (adjective), snatchingly (adverb)


Snatch, meaning ‘to make a sudden snap or bite,’ dates back to the late 12th or early 13th century, in the form of the Middle English verb snacchen. Its origin is uncertain, but some linguists think it may have come into English from the Middle Dutch verb snacken (to snatch or chatter), while others believe it evolved from a lost Old English verb (which could possibly be snæccan), and is merely related to the Middle Dutch word. Some linguists have suggested that snatch is part of a group of words of Germanic origin that start with sn- that have to do with the nose, which would make snatch related to snout. In the 13th and up until the late 18th century, snatch was used interchangeably with the related verb snack, which originally meant ‘to snap or bite,’ but also ‘to snach,’ can be traced back to the Middle Dutch snacken. The sense ‘to take suddenly’ appeared in the early 14th century, while ‘to take from someone’s hands’ was first used in the late 16th century. The noun, meaning ‘a trap or snare,’ dates back to around the year 1300, and comes from the verb. The sense ‘a sudden grab’ dates back to the mid-16th century, while ‘a small amount’ appeared in the late 16th century.

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