Standing and Gripping

Today I came to undestand that the Dutch words begrijpen and verstaan both mean to understand, however they’re used in different contexts and have somewhat different meanings.

Begrijpen [bəˈɣrɛi̯pə(n)] means to understand concepts, ideas etc. or to get (a rise out of sb). It comes from the prefix be- and grijpen (to grab) [source].

Some related words include:

  • begrip = understanding, concept, term
  • begrijplijk = understandable, comprehensible, intelligible
  • begripvol = understanding, supportive
  • onbegrip = incomprehension
  • verkeerd begrijpen = to misunderstand

Verstaan [vərˈstaːn] means (1) to understand (language, words), to hear clearly, or (2) to understand (an idea): the first meanings are more common, and begrijpen is generally used when talking about understanding ideas.

It comes from the Middle Dutch verstaen (to be responsible for, to understand, to hear, to listen, to pay attention, to notice), from the Old Dutch farstān (to understand), from the Proto-Germanic *fura (in front of, against) and *stāną (to stand) [source].

Some related words include:

  • verstaand = reason, mind, intellect, brains, wit, understanding, knowledge
  • verstandelijk = intellectual
  • verstandhouding = understanding (the ability to get along with others)
  • verstandig = sensible, wise, able-minded
  • onverstandig = unwise, insensible
  • verstandigheid = understand, good sense
  • verstandskies = wisdom tooth
  • misverstaan = to misunderstand, misapprehend

Another word meaning to understand is snappen, which also means to get or catch.

Do other languages make a similar distinction between understanding ideas and understanding languages and words?

There are various words in English for understanding:

  • to understand = to know and comprehend the nature or meaning of; to realize or grasp (something); to know how to translate or read; to be sympathetic to or compatible with
  • to know = to understand as true, to have a practical understanding of, as through experience; be skilled in:
  • to comprehend – to take in the meaning, nature, or importance of; grasp.
  • to get = to gain or have understanding of
  • to grasp = to take hold of intellectually; comprehend
  • to grok = to understand profoundly through intuition or empathy

3 thoughts on “Standing and Gripping

  1. I remember from Spanish classes of long ago you that had to be careful about using Saber vs. Conocer, both of which mean “to know”. You have to use Saber when you know ‘things’ but Conocer if you know about people, or are familiar with them. The distinction is more subtle than that, and it’s been too many years since I studied it, but that’s the basic idea.

  2. I had never come across the verb grok although, having looked it up, I now find that it is informal US English and was invented in the 1960s by Robert Heinlein, a US author.

  3. The weird thing about English here, at least the AmEng variant I speak, is that the most common way to ask if someone understands English is “Do you speak English?”.

    Asking “Do you understand English?” comes across as a bit brusque, maybe even rude, to my ear.

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