Meaning of “understand” in the English Dictionary

"understand" in British English

See all translations


uk /ˌʌn.dəˈstænd/ us /ˌʌn.dɚˈstænd/ understood, understood

understand verb (KNOW)

A1 [ I or T ] to know the meaning of something that someone says:

She explained the whole idea again, but I still didn't understand.
Is there anyone here who understands Arabic?
I think he was calling from a club - it was so noisy, I couldn't understand a word he said.

A2 [ I or T ] to know why or how something happens or works:

[ + question word ] We still don't fully understand how the brain works.

B1 [ I or T ] to know how someone feels or why someone behaves in a particular way:

My wife doesn't understand me.
Sometimes I don't understand James.
[ + question word ] You don't understand what it's like/how it feels to have to beg on the streets.
understand sb to mean sth

to think, especially wrongly, that someone means a particular thing:

When he said three o'clock, I understood him to mean in the afternoon.
understand each other/one another

When two people understand one another, they both know what the other means and wants and they have an agreement:

I wanted to make sure that we want the same things, that we really understand each other.

More examples

  • He explained it as simply as he could, but the class still didn't understand.
  • The plot of the film was too involved - I couldn't understand it.
  • She started gabbling away at me in Spanish and I didn't understand a word.
  • If there's anything you don't understand, I'll be happy to explain.
  • You should make certain that everyone understands the instructions.

understand verb (REALIZE)

C1 [ T ] formal to know or realize something because you have been told it:

[ + (that) ] I understand (that) you are interested in borrowing some money from us.
[ + that ] The Director had given her to understand (= told her) that she would be promoted.
[ + obj + to infinitive ] A secret buyer is understood to have paid $1 million for the three pictures (= there is unofficial news that this has happened).

[ I or T ] formal used when making certain that someone knows what you mean and will do as you want:

I don't want you to see that boy again. Understand?/Do you understand?/Is that understood?
it is understood formal

used to refer to something such as a rule that everyone knows and accepts:

In the library it is understood that people should talk quietly.

More examples

  • I don't think you quite understand the severity of our financial problems.
  • I understand the rent is fixed at £750 a month.
  • I understand how you feel, but you really must keep trying.
  • It can help to talk to someone who is suffering the same problems and who understands what it's like.
  • It is hard for the able-bodied to understand the difficulties that disabled people encounter in their daily lives.

(Definition of “understand” from the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary & Thesaurus © Cambridge University Press)

"understand" in American English

See all translations


us /ˌʌn·dərˈstænd/ past tense and past participle understood /ˌʌn·dərˈstʊd/

understand verb (KNOW)

to know the meaning of something, or to know how a person feels and why the person behaves in a particular way:

[ + question word ] I don’t understand what he means.
[ T ] Is there anyone here who understands English?
[ T ] It was so noisy I couldn’t understand (= recognize) a word he was saying.
[ I ] If you choose not to come, I’ll understand.
[ T ] He claimed that no one ever understood him (= had any sympathy for him or knew what he was feeling).
[ + question word ] I understand how she feels about the loss of her dog.
[ T ] It is understood that (= Everyone knows and accepts that) you don’t bring food or drinks into the library.

understand verb (BELIEVE)

[ T ] to believe something is true because you have been told something that causes you to think it:

[ + (that) clause ] I understand (that) the show will go on, but with a different cast.
I understood him to say (= I believed that he said) that the trip had been canceled.

(Definition of “understand” from the Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary © Cambridge University Press)