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Alternative forms[edit]


From Middle English understanden, from Old English understandan (to understand), from Proto-West Germanic *understandan (to stand between, understand), from Proto-Germanic *understandaną (to stand between, understand), equivalent to Old English under- (between, inter-) + standan (to stand) (Modern English under- +‎ stand). Cognate with Old Frisian understonda (to understand, experience, learn), Old High German understantan (to understand), Middle Danish understande (to understand). Compare also Saterland Frisian understunda, unnerstounde (to dare, survey, measure), Dutch onderstaan (to undertake, presume), German unterstehen (to be subordinate).



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

  1. (transitive) (of communication or means of communication: words, statements, signs, etc.) To know the meaning of; to parse or have parsed correctly; to comprehend.
    • 1892, Walter Besant, “Prologue: Who is Edmund Gray?”, in The Ivory Gate [], New York, N.Y.: Harper & Brothers, [], →OCLC:
      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.
    • 1950, L. Ron Hubbard, Dianetics[1], New Era Publications, published 1999, →ISBN, →OCLC, page ix:
      In reading this book, be very certain you never go past a word you do not fully understand.
    • 2013 June 14, Sam Leith, “Where the Profound Meets the Profane”, in The Guardian Weekly, volume 189, number 1, page 37:
      Swearing doesn't just mean what we now understand by "dirty words". It is entwined, in social and linguistic history, with the other sort of swearing: vows and oaths.
    Can you repeat what you just said? I didn't understand.
    1. (transitive) (generally) To know the meaning of.
      • 1991, Stephen Fry, The Liar, London: Heinemann, →OCLC, page 20:
        ‘I came back here, had a wank and finished that book.’
        The Naked Lunch?
        ‘What did you reckon?’
        ‘You're just saying that because you didn't understand it,’ said Adrian.
        ‘I'm just saying that because I did understand it,’ said Tom. ‘Any road up, we'd better start making some toast.’
  2. (transitive) (of a skill, task, profession, etc.) To be thoroughly familiar with; to be able to undertake properly.
    The students understood the assignment.
  3. (transitive, usually with clause as object) To comprehend a fact or principle; to regard or come to regard a belief as such.
    I understand that company policy says I can't get a refund, but can you make an exception?
    There's been no formal declaration, but it's understood that a state of war exists between the two countries
  4. (transitive) (of people) To know the intent, motives or character of; (of events) to know the causes of or reasons for.
    One day you say you love me, the next you ignore me—I don't understand you!
  5. (transitive) To believe, to think one grasps sufficiently despite potentially incomplete knowledge.
    I understand that you have a package for me?
  6. (transitive, grammar) To regard as present when not.
    In the imperative mood, the word “you” is usually understood.
  7. (humorous, rare, obsolete outside circus, acrobatics) To stand underneath, to support.
  8. (intransitive) To comprehend or grasp (some particular matter); to have comprehension (in general);

Usage notes[edit]

  • In its sense of "imputing meaning", use is usually limited to the past participle understood.
  • The obsolete perfect form understanded is occasionally found, e.g. in the Book of Common Prayer and the 39 Articles of the Anglican Church.




Derived terms[edit]


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See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]