According to Wiktionary the etymology of "comprehensive" derives from Latin "comprehensivius" (via French) which in turn means comprehensible.

However I often find comprehensive sources to be very hard to comprehend, or to put it another way: I don't find them comprehensible.

So when and how did "comprehensive" change from meaning "comprehensible" to "completely covering"?

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    See en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/comprehend I immediately thought of the King James Bible "The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not". "Comprehend" here doesn't mean "understand"; more modern translations say "The darkness has not overcome it." Jul 3, 2017 at 8:50

1 Answer 1


They are different metaphorical extensions of the basic idea of "taking" (prehend-) things together (com-)

One development is the more nearly literal "including everything". The second development is from "take things and put them together" to "understand" (a metaphor we also have in native English words: "take in").

According to the OED, "comprehend" has been used in the latter sense (understand) in English since 1340, and in the former (include, comprise, contain) since 1369.

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