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Consider these sentences, please:

  1. Person A: Does the word "have" mean "to possess" in the context given?

    Person B: I understand it to mean "to eat" in the context. I do not see it describing possession. [see=understand]

  2. I just can’t see them winning the game. [see=imagine;https://www.macmillandictionary.com/dictionary/british/see_1 definition 6]

Question 1: Since "see" means "to understand" and "to imagine" in sentences 1) and 2) respectively, can I replace it with them? For example:

a) I do not understand it describing possession.

b) I just can’t imagine them winning the game.

Question 2: Do the participles "describing" and "winning" in 1) and 2) function in the same way as the participle "playing" in the following example?

  1. From the window we could see the children playing in the yard. [see=notice;https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/see definition 1]
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  • A more literal replacement would be "envision".
    – Hot Licks
    Jun 16 '20 at 20:19
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    See does not always mean understand. Figuratively, it can mean envision, imagine, or picture, each of which has a subtly different connotation. Even in the context of the first example, it could still mean one of the other words instead. (And I agree with the other comment. If you're going to replace see in the second example, either envision or picture would be more precise.) Jun 16 '20 at 20:53
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Question 1: Since "see" means "to understand" and "to imagine" in sentences 1) and 2) respectively, can I replace it with them? For example:

a) I do not understand it describing possession.

b) I just can’t imagine them winning the game.

For sentence (a), probably understand ... as would be better than just understand:

I do not understand it as describing possession.

Understand by itself, with or without a direct object, most often is similar to comprehend, rather than the sense wanted here similar to interpret as. The negation do not understand without as implies some type of confusion.

One could also add as in the original sentence 1 with see, without much changing the meaning:

I do not see it as describing possession.

Or for a rephrasing using a form of understand with meaning close to the original:

In my understanding, it does not describe possession.

Sentence (b) is fine, and conveys approximately the same meaning as the original sentence 2 with see. The substitution of imagine might make it a bit more emphatic, or represent a prediction that their chances of winning are even smaller.

Question 2: Do the participles "describing" and "winning" in 1) and 2) function in the same way as the participle "playing" in the following example?

  1. From the window we could see the children playing in the yard.

I would say "it describing possession", "them winning the game", and "the children playing in the yard" in these sentences all have the same grammatical structure there, but it's an interesting question whether they are really noun phrases with adjectival participle, or gerunds with "subjects" in front, or should be called something else. Wikipedia has a lengthy section about this question. The way I see it (see like understand intended), the participle structure doesn't quite capture the meaning well enough: the point is not that I see the word, which (I think) describes possession; or that I see them, who might not win the game; or that we saw children, who were playing. The sentences communicate that in my understanding, the word describes possession; or I can't see that they will win; or we saw both the children and their action of playing. The object of see or its replacement is a combination of noun and verb. Often that could be expressed with a dependent clause, but in this type of grammar, it looks more like a noun (either objective or possessive) followed by a gerund, where the noun acts like a "subject" of the gerund.

Of course, the phrase understand it as describing possession is grammatically different. Here describing certainly is a gerund, acting as object of the preposition as.

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Just because several words have overlapping meanings, does not imply that they will always be interchangeable to produce phrasings that are equally common in usage.

  1. I see what you mean.
  2. I understand what you mean.

The above phrases are common. However,

  1. I imagine what you mean, does not make much sense without further qualification.

To imagine implies an extra step of mental extrapolation beyond the information provided. For instance, if the greater context implied that the speaker of sentence 3 has been listening to someone give a very poor set of verbose and unclear instructions, the listener might say,

"I imagine what you mean (because of your lack of clarity), is that once A is in place, B will naturally follow."

With this greater context in place, the first two formulations still work.

1a) I see what you mean, Once A. then B.

2a) I understand what you mean, One A, then B.

Imagine may also have a temporal component which leads to the bit of mental extrapolation.

I imagine it will be hot tomorrow. This implies that certain facts, perhaps that today is hot, lead you to presume that it will be hot tomorrow.

I see, or I understand it will be hot tomorrow, implies that you have read the weather report and are making your conclusions based on some bit of evidence or hearsay.

Overlapping meanings, but not identical connotations in all circumstances.

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