Roget's 21st Century Thesaurus, Third Edition Copyright © 2013 by the Philip Lief Group.


I'm in the Critchleys' box to-night and I understand she's to be there.

I don't pretend to understand your game, but you may rely on my secrecy.

But, bound as he was, we can understand why they looked in vain.

Then you will understand, and understanding, you will admire his courage.

He was older than I, experienced with women—a lover of women, I came to understand in time.

But this does not astonish us when we understand the difficulties which he was obliged to solve.

Dey laughed when dey heard me talk, an' I could not understand dem, no how.

Philip, you are older and wiser than I, and have shown already that you understand her.

They understand it, up to the level of their own stature; they know who loves them, but not who loves virtue.

They are angry also, as I understand, with my mother, for returning his compliment.


Old English understandan "comprehend, grasp the idea of," probably literally "stand in the midst of," from under + standan "to stand" (see stand). If this is the meaning, the under is not the usual word meaning "beneath," but from Old English under, from PIE *nter- "between, among" (cf. Sanskrit antar "among, between," Latin inter "between, among," Greek entera "intestines;" see inter-).

That is the suggestion in Barnhart, but other sources regard the "among, between, before, in the presence of" sense of Old English prefix and preposition under as other meanings of the same word. "Among" seems to be the sense in many Old English compounds that resemble understand, e.g. underniman "to receive," undersecan "to investigate," underginnan "to begin." It also seems to be the sense still in expressions such as under such circumstances.

Perhaps the ultimate sense is "be close to," cf. Greek epistamai "I know how, I know," literally "I stand upon." Similar formations are found in Old Frisian (understonda), Middle Danish (understande), while other Germanic languages use compounds meaning "stand before" (cf. German verstehen, represented in Old English by forstanden). For this concept, most Indo-European languages use figurative extensions of compounds that literally mean "put together," or "separate," or "take, grasp" (see comprehend). Old English oferstandan, Middle English overstonden, literally "over-stand" seem to have been used only in literal senses.


Roget's 21st Century Thesaurus, Third Edition Copyright © 2013 by the Philip Lief Group.