I was wondering if there was one word in English for "to read something thoroughly until one understands it well"? I am trying to translate a word which has this meaning in Chinese.


  • 4
    to study, perhaps? Mar 30, 2014 at 22:35
  • Could you cite what the Chinese word is? Nothing is coming to mind for me here apart from just 看懂, which is quite obviously not what you're referring to… Mar 30, 2014 at 23:05
  • For reference, the Chinese word is 熟讀.
    – user43898
    Mar 31, 2014 at 0:05
  • 1
    Related: Word for "reading carefully". One option worth considering is peruse, although that word is an autoantonym, as it can also be used to mean "to skim", rather than "to study intently".
    – J.R.
    Mar 31, 2014 at 0:29
  • I'm just curious - is that really one word in Chinese? Mar 31, 2014 at 5:48

13 Answers 13


pore over "She spends a lot of time poring over the historical records of the church."

This idiom means that you're spending a lot of time reading, studying, digging deep into a text. It has more of the idea of looking for details than spending time to comprehend it as a whole, so it may or may not be what you're after.

  • The comprehension bit is not necessarily understood in the Chinese word, either, though it can be; so I think this is perhaps the best option. Mar 31, 2014 at 16:10
  • Great. "Pore over" and "dig deep into a text" seem to come very close. Thanks!
    – user43898
    Apr 1, 2014 at 3:26

To pervade (or permeate) oneself with [a text] until it becomes assimilitated.

  • It means to read (a text, etc.) and let it soak in you until it becomes perfectly understood.


*Perdue pervaded himself with advertising, day and night. He devoured great volumes on the subject, and can still drop quotes by people like David Ogilvy and Rosser Reaves the way other people cite the Bible.

Another good phrase is to imbue oneself with, as in:

During his ten years at Oxford, Alison had deeply imbued himself with the Latin poetical literature, and had these poets at his fingers' ends when he traveled.

  • It means to impregnate oneself with [something], to cause to absorb [it].

Or, more simply, you can do just as well saying to familiarize oneself with, as in:

Facilitators and students will adequately prepare themselves and familiarize with the book. This means reading the book and looking for points to bring up in the discussion.

"To impregnate [oneself with]" actually was the first expression that came to my mind, as long as it's a straightforward and quite naive translation of French "[s'] imprégner de". Though it shares the same sense in English, I'd best avoid it here, since it apparently is better known from native speakers of English in its literal sense "to make pregnant, get with child or young".

I impregnated myself with those five words for three years, until, through them, I became an initiate. I was only dimly aware of the work going on inside of me. The revelation which resolved my assimilation of Doru's words occurred in the autumn of 1979, in the countryside, and was occasioned by the fragrance of a small wine grape.

The usual outward means is to read good styles and impregnate oneself with them; it has of itself an influence on the writing.

  • It means to pervade oneself with those styles, to assimilate them through careful reading and re-reading.

That being said, "to pervade oneself with [something]" or, said more simply, "to familiarize oneself with", still might be what works best for you, as long as "to impregnate oneself with" chiefly has the literal sense "to inseminate" in modern day English.


Perhaps absorb

to learn and understand new facts, so that they become part of your knowledge: We had to absorb a lot of new information very quickly.

While it is not limited to obtaining information from reading, that is one significant avenue.


It's not strictly a proper English word, but 'grok' might suffice:

  1. To understand. Connotes intimate and exhaustive knowledge. When you claim to ‘grok’ some knowledge or technique, you are asserting that you have not merely learned it in a detached instrumental way but that it has become part of you, part of your identity.
  2. Used of programs, may connote merely sufficient understanding. “Almost all C compilers grok the void type these days.”

Source: The Jargon File


Digest would be an appropriate word. Random House Dictionary of the English Language, Second Edition, Unabridged: "to obtain information, ideas, or principles from; assimilate mentally."

  • Although not exactly defined as the Chinese described, when used in the context of reading (as opposed to a general reference, when it might first be thought of as part of taking nourishment from food), it has the same meaning.
    – John
    Mar 31, 2014 at 13:03

I read Thomas 4 times before I finally grokked multivariable calculus.

grok : to understand profoundly and intuitively

The term was coined by Heinlein in 1961.


The word that comes to mind is comprehension, or to comprehend...

  • That doesn't imply reading at all, though. Mar 30, 2014 at 22:58
  • But in the context of the question it does
    – Aqil
    Mar 30, 2014 at 23:04
  • 2
    No, it does not. The question has no context. The asker is looking for a word that means “reading something thoroughly until you understand it well”. Comprehend just means the last three words. Mar 30, 2014 at 23:08
  • @JanusBahsJacquet if you look at one of the answers above you'll see the actual context regards studying.
    – Larry B
    Mar 31, 2014 at 14:27

Con has this meaning: “To get to know; to study or learn, esp. by repetition (mental or vocal); hence, in wider sense, to pore over, peruse, commit to memory; to inspect, scan, examine" —OED 1, s.v. Con, v.1, 3.

  • 6
    Given the overwhelming prevalence of the meaning ‘scam, defraud, trick’ compared to this meaning here, I wouldn't recommend using con in any situation where the meaning is not extremely clear and unambiguous. In fact, given the fact that the OED linked to has no quotes from after 1870, I wouldn't advise using con in this meaning at all. It's a recipe for misunderstanding. Mar 30, 2014 at 23:04
  • @JanusBahsJacquet You think? I would have said that your sense is strictly colloquial and that the default understanding of con in an academic or formal context would be my sense - particularly because the two senses will occur with radically different objects, persons v. works. Mar 30, 2014 at 23:33
  • 4
    I can't remember the last time I saw con used in that way, and I'm relatively certain I've never heard anyone use it in conversation (colloquial or formal). Conning over a text or conning by rote would be safer ground, but the bare verb is (at least in my experience) so vanishingly rare that it's quite likely to be misunderstood, especially if used by a non-native speaker. Mar 30, 2014 at 23:40
  • 1
    At best this is exceedingly rare, if not indisputably archaic. Mar 31, 2014 at 4:06
  • @JanusBahsJacquet BTW, the 1870 date is misleading - that fascicle of the OED was published in 1891, so it was at that time contemporary. Mar 31, 2014 at 12:09

In the 1662 edition of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer (described by some as standing with Shakespeare and Milton as one of the great glories of the English language), The Collect for the 2nd Sunday in Advent reads:

Blessed Lord, who hast caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Unfortunately the compilers of the 1662 edition could not come up with one word, so they used five - and that is the best I can suggest. To read something thoroughly until one understands it well one must 'read, mark, learn and inwardly digest it.


I think it's best if you use a verb and an adverb together, instead of just using one word. If you think about it, the word 熟讀 actually has the same structure - 讀 to mean read, and 熟 to mean do it passionately.

Here, I think 讀 means to study rather than to read. And 熟讀 means to study 'passionately'. So I would lean towards using something like study zealously...however, if you're looking for just one word, then to master something implies that one has read repeatedly on the subject until it is understood.

Also, see this question for words that means to read carefully.


What about using penetrate? Penetrate = To grasp the inner significance of; understand.


If you're talking about the process, then I would suggest Swot or Grind.

  • Swim doesn't grok swot.
    – MetaEd
    Apr 1, 2014 at 23:22

peruse tr.v. pe·rused, pe·rus·ing, pe·rus·es

"To read or examine, typically with great care."


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