I translated the both verbs and the meaning is caught/catch


  1. Ich habe dich erwischt (I caught you)
  2. jdn. kalt erwischen (to catch somebody on the wrong foot)
  3. den Bus erwischen (to catch the bus)


  1. Ich habe dich eingefangen (I captured/caught you)
  2. Sich die Kälte einfangen. (to catch the cold)

I know that I cannot use einfangen for catching a bus but I dont know why. Please explain the slight different between those two verbs.


Einfangen in general means to catch up with something/someone and thereby capture it. It is a rather predictable process: if you have been catching up for a while you will likely reach whatever is trying to run from you.

Letztendlich haben wir den entlaufenen Hund eingefangen.

Ich muss mir irgendwo eine Infektion eingefangen haben; wahrscheinlich als Lukas neben mir gesessen ist und geschnieft hat, wie der Teufel.

(Note: outside of archaic writing/speaking I would not expect sich die Kälte einfangen as an expression for to become ill)

Erwischen is more of a sudden, movement of the moment verb. It is basically the final snatch of catching somebody. That is why you can use it with the bus: you basically just made it before the bus left without you. And also kalt erwischen fits this pattern: you were unprepared and something snatched you.

Hans hatte sich hinter der Mauer versteckt. Als Lisa sich in Sicherheit wähnte, schoss er hervor und erwischte sie.

Dass plötzlich die Waschmaschine kaputtgegangen ist, hat mich ganz schön kalt erwischt!

Ich musste zwar sprinten, aber den Bus konnte ich letztlich doch noch erwischen.

Du schniefst ganz schön, hat dich auch die Grippe erwischt?

In the last example that was not in your suggestions, the common cold caught you in an unsuspecting moment were your defences were low — at least that is the implication from the expression.


Einfangen describes a physical activity, like catching a fish, thief, animal etc. Its focus is, in the literal sense, on hindering the target's free movement, and it holds the connotation of doing no harm to the target (you would never use einfangen for shooting a running thief). Now as you noticed, it is also metaphorically used is some places, like for catching a cold (Erkältung, nicht kalte). The literal meaning still has some sense as you use it here to describe that some contagious illness has been stuck with you. And you cannot use einfangen with a bus because it moves on after you got in.

Now, erwischen has a broader range of meaning and no necessary physical component. A typical meaning could be described as getting to know something someone was hiding from you. That includes noticing a thief without getting a hold of them or catching a partner cheating, where in both instances you would not use einfangen because there is no physical action linked to the situation. However, erwischen sometimes is used with included meaning of a physical action, for example with the bus. So to get the more general meaning, think of it as some sort of collision (in the broader sense) which usually is intended by the subject, while the target actively tries to avoid it. The thief tries not to be noticed, but nonetheless, someone sees them – so he is erwischt and the collision would be between the action of the thief and the other one's attention.

To get to the bus example, I think the most probable explanation comes from the children's game tag, which is also a usual situation where you would use erwischen when a collision which is trying to be avoided by the target happens. Now when running for the bus, you typically have the idea of the bus trying to get away from you, hence you use erwischen. If you use it, the connotation usually is that you barely catched the bus.

Note that erwischen is a more colloquial term than einfangen.


The reason why you can't say:

Ich habe mir den Bus eingefangen.

is, because it is reflexive. You are not able to incorporate the bus.

On the other hand, if you don't use the reflexive version, you can say:

Ich habe das Tier gefangen/eingefangen.

  • But then why doesn’t ‘Ich habe den Bus eingefangen’ work?
    – Jan
    Dec 20 '17 at 13:00
  • The same I wanted to ask what if I used the non reflexive version of the verb
    – kkmm
    Dec 21 '17 at 13:36

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