understand

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English[edit]

Alternative forms[edit]

Etymology[edit]

From Middle English understanden, from Old English understandan (to understand), from Proto-Germanic *under (between) + *standaną (to stand), equivalent to Old English under- (between, inter-) + standan (to stand). Cognate with Eastern Frisian understunda (to understand), Old High German understantan (to understand), Middle Danish understande (to understand). Compare also Dutch onderstaan (to undertake, presume), German unterstehen (to be subordinate). More at inter-, stand.

Pronunciation[edit]

Verb[edit]

understand (third-person singular simple present understands, present participle understanding, simple past and past participle understood)

  1. (transitive) To be aware of the meaning of.
    I understand German.
    I received your note, but I did not understand it.
  2. To believe, based on information.
    I understand that you have information for me.
    • 1963, Margery Allingham, “Foreword”, in The China Governess[1]:
      ‘I understand that the district was considered a sort of sanctuary,’ the Chief was saying. ‘An Alsatia like the ancient one behind the Strand, or the Saffron Hill before the First World War. []
  3. To impute meaning, character etc. that is not explicitly stated.
    But we cannot disappoint Grandma and Grandpa Smith, and that is what family is all about! Do you understand?!
    In this sense, the word is usually used in the past participle:
    In the imperative mood, the word “you” is usually understood.
    • John Locke (1632-1705)
      The most learned interpreters understood the words of sin, and not of Abel.
    • 1893, Walter Besant, The Ivory Gate, Prologue:
      Thus, when he drew up instructions in lawyer language, he expressed the important words by an initial, a medial, or a final consonant, and made scratches for all the words between; his clerks, however, understood him very well.
  4. (obsolete, rare, humorous) To stand under; to support.
    (Can we find and add a quotation of Shakespeare to this entry?)

Usage notes[edit]

  • Objects: text, word, sentence, note, etc.

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Derived terms[edit]

Translations[edit]

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