The Meaning of Underlying: What It Is and How To Use It

Do you know the definition of underlying? This article will provide you with all of the information you need on the word underlying, including its definition, etymology, usage, example sentences, and more!

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What does the word underlying mean?

According to Merriam-Webster Unabridged English Dictionary and Dictionary, the word underlying (pronounced ˈʌn dərˌlaɪ ɪŋ) is an adjective that can either literally refer to something that is lying or situated beneath something else, or can figuratively be used to mean fundamental or implicit. The word underlying can be used to describe a great many different things, from the underlying cause of an illness, to the underlying meaning of what someone says. Someone could make an underlying assumption about another person, while another might have underlying problems or  underlying conditions that could make them a medical risk. Someone who studies the stock market might see underlying trends, while people who study philosophy might look for the underlying principles of an argument, or the underlying theme of a novel. Overall, the word underlying is a very versatile word that is often used in American English. Try using this word of the day or other new words in a sentence today!

There are many different languages that also use words that mean underlying. You may notice that many of these words look similar to one another. This is likely because they have a common origin. Often, languages that have a common language of origin, like Latin or Greek, will contain many cognates, which are words that look, sound, and mean similar things. This list of translations for the word underlying is provided by Word Sense

  • Italian: sottostante‎
  • French: sous-jacent‎
  • Catalan: subjacent‎
  • Spanish: subyacente‎
  • Portuguese: implícito‎ (masc.), subjacente‎
  • Dutch: achterliggend‎
  • German: implizit‎

What is the origin of the word underlying?

According to Etymonline, the word underlying has been used as an adjective since the 1610s. This was taken from the present participle of the verb underlie. Underlie comes from the Old English under licgan meaning to be subordinate to or to submit to. This was used to mean to lie underneath since the year 1600. This was used in a figurative sense beginning in 1852; this is the usage that we use for the word underlying. This has a similar formation as the Old High German untarliggan, which gives us the German unterliegen.

What are synonyms and antonyms for the word underlying?

There are many different words that one can use in place of the word underlying. These are called synonyms, which are words and phrases that have the same meaning as another word or phrase. Synonyms are very useful English grammatical devices to know because they can help you to avoid repeating yourself as well as to expand your vocabulary. This list of synonyms for the word underlying is provided by Thesaurus

  • meat-and-potatoes
  • veiled
  • nitty-gritty
  • bottom
  • paramount
  • bottom-line
  • radical
  • crucial
  • vital
  • underlying
  • basic
  • key
  • elementary
  • structural
  • substrative
  • axiomatic
  • substratal
  • requisite
  • needful
  • foundational
  • lurking
  • nub
  • principal
  • rudimentary
  • major
  • axiological
  • organic
  • supporting
  • indispensable
  • central
  • theoretical
  • necessary
  • first
  • critical
  • constitutive
  • basal
  • essential
  • primitive
  • hidden
  • primordial
  • cardinal
  • intrinsic
  • elemental
  • prime
  • primary
  • significant
  • underived
  • latent
  • fundamental
  • grass-roots
  • sustaining
  • constitutional
  • concealed
  • integral
  • original
  • root

There are also many different words that mean the opposite of the word underlying. These are called antonyms. Antonyms are also useful to know if you are trying to expand your English language vocabulary. This list of antonyms is also provided by Thesaurus

  • backup
  • subject
  • subservient
  • alternate
  • supporting
  • lower
  • minor
  • substract
  • bush-league
  • consequential
  • reserve
  • extra
  • trivial
  • auxiliary
  • subsidiary
  • second-rate
  • collateral
  • insignificant
  • lesser
  • minor-league
  • contingent
  • inconsiderable
  • second
  • under
  • small-fry
  • unimportant
  • dependent
  • accessory
  • small
  • small-time
  • inferior
  • dinky
  • tributary
  • petty
  • relief
  • secondary
  • subordinate

How can the word underlying be used in a sentence?

The word underlying can be used in many different sentences and contexts within the English language. Usually, this word will be used figuratively to refer tos something that is implicit or fundamental. In this example, Jenna is meeting with her counselor about her grades slipping. 

Counselor: Jenna, what happened? You were a straight A student last year, and now you don’t have a grade higher than a C.

Jenna: I just don’t really care about my grades any more. I don’t want to go to college.

Counselor: I struggle to believe that. Based on the girl who walked into my office fresh out of eighth grade, I think there is another underlying problem we need to address. I know your dad passed away recently. And I feel like this could be contributing. I’d like to set up regular sessions with the school psychiatrist to help you.

Here, the counselor postulates that the underlying cause of Jenna’s slipping grades is not that she has suddenly stopped caring, but that she is depressed from the loss of her dad. In this next example, Jenna is discussing her health with her doctor.

Doctor: Jenna, you’re perfectly healthy.

Jenna: Are you sure? I just want to make sure I don’t have any underlying conditions that might come up later. My dad also seemed perfectly healthy and then he had a heart attack. 

Doctor: Jenna, your father’s heart attack was not from any pre-existing condition. Sometimes, these things just happen. It’s sad, but it’s unfortunately true.

Overall, the word underlying is an adjective that can be used both literally and figuratively. Literally, the word means that something is literally beneath something else. Figuratively, the word is used to describe something that is implicit or fundamental. This versatile word can be sued in many different circumstances in the English language.