Definition of understand in US English:



  • 1with object Perceive the intended meaning of (words, a language, or a speaker)

    ‘he didn't understand a word I said’
    ‘he could usually make himself understood’
    with clause ‘she understood what he was saying’
    • ‘I didn't understand a word of the German they were singing in, but that didn't seem to matter at all.’
    • ‘It was virtually impossible to hear a word anyone was saying or to make yourself understood.’
    • ‘To top it all off, half of the actresses sound like they're trying to speak English without understanding a word of it.’
    • ‘Even someone who did not know English would have understood every word.’
    • ‘We spoke the same minority language, and understood the same underground symbols.’
    • ‘Computers can use language, but they can't use and understand words.’
    • ‘The Armenian language has many dialects, some of which cannot be understood by speakers of other dialects.’
    • ‘I knew very little Spanish when I came here, but I have been learning and can now make myself understood.’
    • ‘At my workplace my boss gets the children to memorise great tracks of English, but they don't understand a word of it.’
    • ‘Somehow between our languages we were able to make ourselves understood.’
    • ‘Maxwell was seconds away from challenging the man about it when he discovered the guy was Italian and hadn't understood a word.’
    • ‘For whatever reason he had formed the erroneous impression that she did not understand the Creole language.’
    • ‘She looked at me with no expression at all as if she didn't understand a word I'd said.’
    • ‘We knew that he had never been to school and yet he could speak so fluently and be understood by first language speakers.’
    • ‘I do not understand the words these motorcycle guys are saying yet the language they speak is universal.’
    • ‘I was already fluent in French and Spanish so it was not difficult to understand another Latin language.’
    • ‘Discovering how other languages work helps you understand your own better.’
    • ‘Sometimes it is difficult to make yourself understood even by those who share your language.’
    • ‘They must take the initiative to understand indigenous languages and cultures.’
    • ‘For the most part, speakers of different dialects can make themselves understood to speakers of other dialects.’
    1. 1.1 Perceive the significance, explanation, or cause of (something)
      ‘she didn't really understand the situation’
      with clause ‘he couldn't understand why we burst out laughing’
      no object ‘you don't understand—she has left me’
      • ‘I don't believe he understood very well the significance of the date.’
      • ‘Its significance has not been fully understood because of controversy over its dating.’
      • ‘It was because I hardly understood and grasped the situation myself.’
      • ‘The real significance of new IT devices can also now be understood better.’
      • ‘I am afraid I have to say that I find that explanation difficult to understand.’
      • ‘If Nancy comes across as too mercenary, her situation must be understood.’
      • ‘This situation is better understood through lenses of conflict theory.’
      • ‘What needs to be understood about the situation is that both leaders are hostage to their own constituencies.’
      • ‘I've gotten some sympathy from a girlfriend, who says she doesn't understand the situation either - she understands me and where I am on it, just not him.’
      • ‘I think we understood each other's situation, almost to the point that you become protective of each other.’
      • ‘Everything makes sense when you're little, because what you don't understand you invent an explanation for.’
      • ‘This point is pretty widely understood by people following or reporting on this story.’
      • ‘I just want to understand what the practical significance of this issue is.’
      • ‘It was a credit to the council and, while it was a very costly facility, it could now be understood why the cost was so high.’
      • ‘This must be clearly understood by everyone and I think the situation will become much better in that case.’
      • ‘Wise woman that she was, she understood this was a situation where she didn't belong.’
      • ‘Without this perspective, the significance of the case cannot be fully understood.’
      • ‘He understands how volatile this situation is.’
      • ‘I'm not sure I understood much about the situation in the region.’
      • ‘It's so simple, but it can never be understood or mastered.’
      comprehend, apprehend, grasp, see, take in, perceive, discern, make out, puzzle out, recognize, keep up with, master, get to know, follow, fathom, get to the bottom of, penetrate, divine, interpret, unravel, decipher, see the light about, envisage
      View synonyms
  • 2Interpret or view (something) in a particular way.

    ‘as the term is usually understood, legislation refers to regulations and directives’
    • ‘But Jack rejects this view and understands it for what it is.’
    • ‘In journalism classically understood, information flows from the press to the public.’
    • ‘The times change, but the enduring principles that help us to interpret and understand the world do not.’
    • ‘Science in this view is simply understanding their gods' methods and intentions.’
    • ‘A lot of people don't understand it and view it as something negative because of the extreme nature of it.’
    • ‘It normally understood all points of view equally, but something seemed to be changing with it.’
    • ‘At the same time, the painting's title requires us to understand it as a view of New York.’
    • ‘I can't understand this point of view on any level, and hope I never will.’
    • ‘Many believe his discovery will change the face of science and how scientists understand the very nature of reality.’
    • ‘The Journal is usually better at understanding economics than this.’
    • ‘It will steer you towards companies that are small friendly and reliable - and usually excellent at understanding the needs of a family holiday.’
    • ‘This point of view is essential to understanding the framework of national history.’
    • ‘As you can see, it's nearly impossible for a lay citizen to read a piece of legislation today and understand its impact.’
    • ‘Although his writing is political, it is not political in the usually understood sense.’
    1. 2.1with clause Infer something from information received (often used as a polite formula in conversation)
      ‘I understand you're at art school’
      with object ‘as I understood it, she was flying back to New Zealand tomorrow’
      • ‘I understand that people want information and so would I.’
      • ‘I understand that many of the resorts in the region have received cancellations.’
      • ‘The allocation of questions is done to an agreed formula, and I understand that it is done very carefully.’
      • ‘She understood that the Vice President had learned this information from the CIA.’
      • ‘They had not replied and he understood that this was because such information should be kept secret.’
      • ‘I understand that the information here may challenge some and get a few smirks.’
      • ‘We can understand that some people might be reluctant to give information.’
      • ‘The newspaper understands that its readers are subject to massive information overload.’
      • ‘He understood that for there to be a conversation there must be both speakers and listeners, and he regarded himself merely as one of the moderators.’
      • ‘We understand that this constant credit information might become irritating for some users.’
      • ‘From our last phone conversation I understood she had a crush on him and he had one on her.’
      • ‘He understands that he is going to receive a long prison sentence.’
      • ‘Anyone who knows me well understands that I am unable to carry on a conversation unless it leads to the topic of food.’
      • ‘We also understood that the problem of finding useful information was expanding as the web expanded.’
      • ‘Thirty people were on board and he understood 15 received medical treatment at the scene.’
      • ‘He said he understood that schools in disadvantaged parts of the district should receive extra money.’
      • ‘Everyone understood that an anxious community wanted correct information.’
      • ‘Apart from the art department, I understand that the school gives a pretty good education.’
      • ‘I understood that employers are not happy with an employee that receives too many personal phone calls.’
      • ‘We understand that Mr Collins was satisfied with the treatment he received and we are pleased but not surprised to hear this.’
    2. 2.2with object Regard (a missing word, phrase, or idea) as present; supply mentally.
      ‘“present company excepted” is always understood when sweeping generalizations are being made’
    3. 2.3with clause Assume to be the case; take for granted.
      ‘he liked to play the field—that was understood’
      • ‘It should be understood that the grant is limited to less than $1,000 annually.’
      • ‘It is usually understood that in order for us to get to know each other, we should talk about sports, politics, and other issues of the day.’
      • ‘It is understood the board viewed two different rough cuts of the film at the beginning of last month.’
      believe, be led to believe, be given to understand, think, conclude, come to the conclusion, deduce, infer, draw the inference, assume, surmise, fancy
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  • 3Be sympathetically or knowledgeably aware of the character or nature of.

    ‘Picasso understood color’
    with clause ‘I understand how you feel’
    • ‘It's a common oversight because lighting technology isn't quite understood by homeowners.’
    • ‘Her aunt and uncle understood and sympathized with her mother, feeling bad that someone in their family suffered a divorce.’
    • ‘I never quite felt I understood her or what she was after.’
    • ‘He understands how his characters are shaped and trapped by circumstance, and that their circumstance can sometimes be simply ignorance.’
    • ‘However, as someone who understands Australia quite well, I wish to suggest entrepreneurs be cautious about it.’
    • ‘One would believe that pain would be socially understood and somewhat sympathized with.’
    • ‘Brit rolled her eyes, never quite understanding her sister's tomboyish streak.’
    • ‘I don't think she quite understands me very well.’
    • ‘In the case of Nora, I refused to start writing her as a character until I truly understood her.’
    • ‘Have you ever wondered why you can never seem to understand your significant other?’
    • ‘The provinces did not quite understand London, and slightly mistrusted it.’
    • ‘Given the pressure he was under, I understood and even sympathized.’
    • ‘I didn't quite understand myself how I could love him so much.’
    • ‘And surely part of the problem was that while everyone thought they knew him, he kind of pointedly revealed that nobody ever quite understood him.’
    • ‘In order for a reader to understand a story, the characters must be understood.’
    • ‘Misha was alone, and she was aware that few people understood her.’
    • ‘While Scott concedes that she is somewhat overbearing, he understands what the character is all about.’
    • ‘There's a sense that this guy is not quite understanding enough or sympathetic enough to the allies' point of view.’
    • ‘Others feel the need for a bit of encouragement, a sense that the preacher understands or better still sympathises with the compulsions of their lives.’
    • ‘I have been obsessed by this, trying to understand the very nature of my existence.’
    appreciate, recognize, realize, acknowledge, know, be aware of, be conscious of, be cognizant of, accept
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Old English understandan (see under-, stand).