Origin & History of “apprehend”

The underlying notion in apprehend is of ‘seizing’ or ‘grasping’; it comes ultimately from the Latin verb prehendere ‘seize’ (source also of comprehend, predatory, and prehensile). Latin apprehendere ‘lay hold of’, formed with the prefix ad-, developed the metaphorical meaning ‘seize with the mind’ – that is, ‘learn’; and that was the earliest meaning apprehend had in English when it was borrowed either directly from Latin or via French appréhender: John de Trevisa, for instance, in his translation of De proprietatibus rerum 1398 writes ‘he holds in mind … without forgetting, all that he apprehends’. more familiar modern senses, such as ‘arrest’ and ‘understand’, followed in the 16th century.

A contracted form of the Latin verb, apprendere, became Old French aprendre, modern French apprendre ‘learn’. this provided the basis for the derivative aprentis ‘someone learning’, from which English gets apprentice (14th c.); and its past participle appris, in the causative sense ‘taught’, was the source of English apprise (17th c.).

The chief modern meaning of the derived noun apprehension, ‘fear’, arose via the notion of ‘grasping something with the mind’, then ‘forming an idea of what will happen in the future’, and finally ‘anticipation of something unpleasant’.