What is the difference between the verbs comprehend and understand?

Can we say

comprehend a lesson


  • "to comprehend" is the Latin variant of the normal word "to understand". "to comprehend" is written elevated style.
    – rogermue
    Dec 23, 2014 at 18:07
  • Welcome to English Language & Usage @Hanaa. Share your research: show what you've found already, and explain what it is you don't understand.
    – user63230
    Jan 2, 2015 at 3:39
  • "comprehend" is from French. Question answered here: ell.stackexchange.com/questions/192625/…
    – Quidam
    Jan 16, 2020 at 5:48

3 Answers 3


According to the dictionary, comprehend simply means understand, but to me the connotations are slightly different. Comprehend seems more "comprehensive" --I would describe it as a deeper and more complete level of understanding.

I also see comprehend as dealing more with ability, the mental capacity to grasp something. For instance, I would say "I understand French, I comprehend physics." In terms of French, I either know what the words mean or I don't, it's (arguably) not a conceptual leap. For physics, I actually need to see the world in a different way.

You might say that a child comprehends a lesson, but only if it represents an actual conceptual advance, not just memorization.

  • There is a wealth of nuance in the etymology of understand & comprehend, especially when you compare the two completely different word pictures the words evoke. Seize the opportunity!
    – ScotM
    Dec 23, 2014 at 16:07
  • @Hanaa Did you understand the difference, or comprehend it? Dec 23, 2014 at 16:13
  • 2
    I comprehended it .
    – Hanaa
    Dec 23, 2014 at 16:23

You can.....

Comprehend is a verb that originates from the Latin word comprehendere, which means “catch or seize.”

  • When an idea is clear to you and you understand it completely, you comprehend it.
  • to take in or embrace; include; comprise.

.....Education is to help students understand the how's and why's. All complicated subjects need you to practice and think. Understanding requires knowledge and thought.

  • Another kind of understanding is like sympathy. For example, you might not approve of stealing, but you could understand why a guy would steal to feed his family.
  • Thanks for the Latin etymology. I'm reminded of the Biblical "the light shone in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it," (John 1:5) where the term seemingly has connotations of understand, accept and overcome. Dec 23, 2014 at 16:24

I would say that they're more or less the same, however used in different contexts.

I comprehended a lesson

doesn't quite make sense for me; I would say that the differences are solely contextual.

I understood the lesson

Makes sense to me

However, note that it depends on what you mean by lesson: if you're talking about a lesson as in school, this would make sense, however if you are speaking of a lesson as in he's learned his lesson this wouldn't be appropriate.

  • 1
    I would say that one can comprehend a subject, but understand a lesson. Dec 23, 2014 at 17:05
  • Yes exactly as you said Matt Gutting
    – Hanaa
    Dec 23, 2014 at 18:15
  • Yes, exactly @MattGutting
    – joe_young
    Dec 23, 2014 at 18:25

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.