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I ask for the difference in a sense of active quality rather than a stative quality of the verbs. E.g. in "the toy is sitting underneath/under table", the verb is stative. So we are dealing with adverbs.

For example, is it correct if I say :

I will slip the envelope underneath the door.

or should I say

I will slip the envelope under the door.

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In your examples there is no difference in meaning. Have a look at under and underneath in these dictionary entries. – Matt E. Эллен Jan 29 '12 at 21:08
@Matt yes, but my example has a sense of "action" quality rather than a "static" quality. ok , I have to look at adverbs. I see both can be adverbs – Theta30 Jan 29 '12 at 21:17
Both words can be adverbs, but it has nothing to do with any active/stative distinction. Traditionally, dictionaries and grammars would take either word as a preposition if it has an object (e.g., under the door) and as an adverb if it doesn't (e.g., it went under). Much work in linguistics, though, dating back to Jespersen in the early 1900s, argues that the object distinction is invalid and that these words are always prepositions. – Brett Reynolds Jan 30 '12 at 12:36
@Matt you were right about the example. However, the dictionary lists under as a synonym of underneath, while there are examples when under cannot be substituted by underneath. So the dictionaries do not reflect always the usage. – Theta30 Feb 11 '12 at 2:22

5 Answers 5

I'm not sure but I think you use under when it's followed by something, so I'd say:

I will slip the envelope under the floor


It's not on the table, but underneath.

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"I slipped it underneath the door" implies it stayed under the door. A door is a thing that is not very wide, and "underneath" would be inappropriate.

"I slipped it under the floor" and "I slipped it underneath the floor" would be the same thing, although I would want to use - incorrectly - "to underneath", indicating that "underneath" is a concrete place, whereas "under" is a position. However, I live among non-native speakers who use that construction, so I probably see a non-obvious logic.

"Under the sea" tells me it's in the water, whereas "underneath the sea" is a place below the water.

As for julio's comment, although it's true you wouldn't really say "it's not over it, but under" (realistically) - you can say "it's not over it, but underneath it."

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Most of your distinctions do not hold in general, or possibly at all. For example, "There is salt under the sea" cannot be taken to mean there is salt in the water but instead means there is salt in the seabed. – jwpat7 Feb 3 '12 at 2:32
I would say "there is salt in the sea". "Under the sea" is a popular, but not technically correct, use of the preposition, which I use for illustration because it's a clear example of the difference between "under" and "underneath". I use it when explaining those prepositions in my classes, just before I explain that the distinction between "under" and "underneath" is microscopic, and often not important. – anastasia Feb 6 '12 at 8:47

"It's sitting underneath the table" is not stative - it's still an action. Stative is, like "it understands underneath the table" or "it tastes under the table."

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While the above answer may contain some germ of truth, the second half is close to gibberish. Specifically, the form Stative is, like x or y means Stative exists in the same way that x or y exist. But (eg) the assertion "Stative exists in the same way that it tastes under the table exists" is not a reasonable or meaningful assertion. – jwpat7 Feb 2 '12 at 5:22
@jwpat7 I understood what she meant – Theta30 Feb 3 '12 at 0:25
wait, I think indeed "sit" is stative. See the table on Wikipedia That made me use this word. – Theta30 Feb 3 '12 at 0:50
@jwpat - the point of the illustration was that "it tastes under the table" (where "under" is an adverb) does not exist. it sounded like gibberish because it was meant to, to show how stative verbs would sound if they were used in that situation. – anastasia Feb 6 '12 at 8:45
@Theta30, are you asking that the whole question, along with all answers be deleted? If so, click Delete (which you may find among options after the tags of the question) or perhaps flag the question for moderator attention. If instead you mean the comment you recently posted, click the 'x' near the end of the comment. If you mean some other comment, you can flag it for moderator attention by clicking the flag that pops up when cursor hovers near left end of comment. Note, you can edit the question or answers by clicking edit. – jwpat7 Feb 11 '12 at 2:11
up vote 0 down vote accepted

Yes, it is correct. Quoting A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language :

With words of motion, prepositions may express the idea of PASSAGE, as well as destination.
- He jumped over a ditch [1]
- Someone ran behind the goalposts [2]
- The ball rolled underneath the table [3]
In sentences such as [2] and [3], there is an ambiguity. In [3], we can supply either the meaning of 'passage' or the meaning of 'destination'.
Note: A triple ambiguity might in fact arise,..., more clearly with:
- A mouse scuttled behind the curtain.

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I would say that underneath suggests one thing is "touching" another. For example, the paper is underneath the book. The opposite being on top of: the book is on top of the paper - touching.

Whereas under suggests one thing is not necessarily touching another. For example, the cat is under the table.

The opposite of under being over. The opposite to above being below.

Rather general and open to exceptions but still a reasonable argument.

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