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Is there a difference in the meaning or the usage of the verbs understand and comprehend? Which one would fit best in the following sentence?

In order to speak and understand/comprehend a language, there has to be a representation of the words.

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This may be answered by a comparison of the two words in a good dictionary. Voting to close as general reference. –  Robusto Mar 26 '12 at 11:35
@Robusto: a dictionary won't tell you relative rarity or register. –  Mitch Mar 26 '12 at 12:30
Why are many interesting questions closed? This question at least addresses 1) Usage, word choice, and grammar and 2) Etymology (history of words’ development), beyond anything a dictionary can provide. I like questions to improve my comprehension and understanding of English, not just correct grammar mistakes or wrong term usage. –  Vladtn Mar 26 '12 at 15:27
@Vladtn: Well, ask yourself this: "Why did I choose comprehension instead of understanding in my third sentence?" –  Robusto Mar 26 '12 at 16:47
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closed as general reference by Robusto, JSBձոգչ, Matt Эллен, Mr. Shiny and New 安宇, FumbleFingers Mar 26 '12 at 14:19

This question is too basic; it can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

3 Answers

Comprehend (through its Latin etymology, from comprehendere, cum: with + prehendere: grab) also has a spatial connotation, like encompass, by which one's thought surrounds a particular topic, like the hand an object, seeing all aspects and limits of a concept, but indeed, without maybe peeking inside like with true understanding.

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They are mostly synonymous but 'understand' is much more everyday than 'comprehend'.

Also, in addition to the connotation of 'inclusion', 'comprehend' is more intense.

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The words are synonymous but have slight difference between them. Understanding has a connotation of a deeper, fuller realization of a matter while comprehension is less deep and less full.

For an example, assume a person spoke elemental Spanish. If this person read a bit of poetry, he might comprehend the words but could easily not understand the meaning.

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Hm ... Interesting, in OALD it is explained the other way round, unstanding: to know or realize the meaning of words or to know or realize how or why something happens, but comprehend: to understand something fully, while comprehend is often used in negative sentences. –  Em1 Mar 26 '12 at 12:12
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