Skip to main content

Arrest vs Apprehend vs Attach vs Detain

Arrest, Apprehend, Attach and Detain mean to seize and hold under restraint or in custody by authority of the law.  The same likenesses and differences in meaning are manifest in the comparable use of arrest, apprehension, attachment, detention.

Arrest (verb or noun) is the most widely used of these words for the seizing of a person and holding him in custody.

It refers both to civil cases where a person is placed under restraint, and to criminal cases, where apprehend and apprehension are also used; strictly, one arrests a person for debt, but one apprehends a thief; witnesses are under arrest; the apprehension of the rioters is demanded.

Ordinarily laymen seldom use arrest except in the sense of apprehend, for it carries connotations which make its use avoided in reference to witnesses or even suspects.

The words commonly used when property is seized and held (as for payment of a debt) are attach and attachment.

  • attach the accounts of a firm suspected of falsification of income tax reports

Attach and attachment are used in reference to persons chiefly when the intent is to make them appear in court (as to answer for contempt or to serve as a witness).

Detain and detention usually imply holding in custody (as for inquiry or inspection).

They are not strictly legal terms but are often used when there is the desire to avoid the stigma associated with the word arrest.

  • the health officers detained the ship
  • detain a suspect
  • detain a witness