Printable Version
Pronunciation: kahm-pri-hend Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, transitive

Meaning: 1. Understand completely, thoroughly grasp mentally, get your head around. 2. Include, encompass, embrace, comprise, contain.

Notes: Today's word comes with a large lexical family. The noun is comprehension with an adjective comprehensional "related to comprehension". There are active (comprehensive "all-inclusive") and two passive adjectives, comprehendible and comprehensible, both with adverbs on -ly. Do not confuse this word with apprehend, which means simply "to perceive in the moment".

In Play: The first meaning is closer to "get your head around" than "understand", since its object must be a large idea or concept: "The current congress has difficulty comprehending the country it is supposed to be governing." The second meaning, again, implies something big: "My county, with a population of only 43,000, is so rich it comprehends eight banks, forty restaurants and a huge hospital campus."

Word History: This Good Word comes from Latin comprehendere "to take together, seize; include", but also "to comprehend, perceive" (to seize with the mind). It comprises com "with, together" + prehendere "to catch hold of, seize", also the source of prehensile. French added a prefix sur- "over, above" to its version of prehendere, prehendre, to create surprendre "to surprise". English took the feminine of the past participle of this word for its surprise. Latin inherited the root of prehendere (pre-hendere) from PIE ghe(n)d- "seize, take" with a Fickle N. Without the Fickle N it became get in English. English also borrowed Old Swedish gissa "guess" from the same source, frenchifying it into guess. (Perry Lassiter, I'm sure, would not comprehend our forgetting to thank him liberally for his suggestion of today's comprehensive Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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