Follow US:

Practice English Speaking&Listening with: English Vocabulary: Words with the prefix UNDER-

Difficulty: 0


Welcome to

I'm Adam.

Today's lesson is a bit more grammar-based, or I guess you could also call it vocabulary-based.

We're going to look at the word "under", but we're going to look at it in a very specific


And I had a lot of people asking me about certain words that begin with the word "under"

and then take another word with it.

So, first let's make sure we understand what the word "under" means.

First of all, it's a preposition, meaning it has a function in terms of movement of

things or location, or positioning.

And it means... when we're using it now as a prefix... actually, I should write this

word for you.


A "prefix" is a part of a word that comes at the beginning of a word, joins to another

word and becomes a new word together.

So, as a prefix, "under" essentially keeps the same meaning as it does as a preposition.

It means less, or lower, or not enough, or beneath/below which is the traditional meaning

that most people know.

So, here are some words with "under" as a prefix, and it basically means exactly the

same thing with the extra word.

So, what do I mean?


If you underachieve, you achieve less than you could; less than your full potential.


An "underachiever" is also somebody who we would think of as lazy or doesn't really try

too hard or doesn't really care very much.

This person is an underachiever because he or she can reach a certain level, but doesn't

really try to, and that's why he or she is an underachiever.

Lower: An "undergraduate".

A lot of people know this word.

An "undergraduate" is in university, is a person studying for a bachelor's degree.

Now, here is the graduate, person who's graduated from the bachelor's program and maybe will

go to a master's or a PhD.

So, an undergraduate is under that; lower level of student within the system.


So it basically means the exact same thing as the two parts; "under" and "graduate".

Lower than a graduate.

Not enough: "Underdeveloped" means it hasn't been fully developed; it's not developed enough

- very straightforward.

And beneath/below: "Underground".

So, the train is... the subway is underground - means it's under the ground, and we just

squeeze the two words together; "under" becomes a prefix, "ground" becomes... stays the same

and you have a new noun.

Now, the problem that a lot of people have is when the two words join together and have

a completely different meaning or a different connotation.


And a "connotation" means the words may mean the same thing, but the idea behind them is

a little bit different.


So let's look at some examples.


Now, if you're going to undertake something, if you're going to undertake a task or you're

going to undertake a project - essentially, it means you're going to do it or you're going

to at least commit to doing it, or accept the responsibility of doing it.


So, we have... we have some plans; we're going to undertake these plans next week; we're

going to do them, we're going to make them happen next week.

Now, the problem is: If you say: "Take under", "take under" means, like, take below; take

under the ground or whatever.

"Take under" can also be a phrasal verb.

So if you take someone under your wing - means you're... you're going to teach them, you're

going to take responsibility for them.

When you put it the other way around, first of all, there's no space so it's one word,

and it has a different meaning: Do.

So that's where it becomes a little bit tricky for English learners because you don't know

where these differences are.

With all of these words, all you do is just rearrange the order: "Develop under" means

developed not enough.

"Achieve less", "graduate lower than somebody else".


So it's easy to understand.

These ones, not so much.


"Undergo" means be part of a process, or again, could also mean do.

So, if you undergo surgery - means you're going to lie on a bed and a doctor's going

to cut you open, and do whatever he does or she does.

So if you undergo something, you're part of that process; undergo surgery, for example.

If you "underestimate"... now, "estimate" generally means guess something.

So you're guessing something about someone or about something, but if you "underestimate",

it doesn't mean that you're guessing lower or you're guessing less; it means you're not

fully appreciating something.

So, if you underestimate a person's strength or if you underestimate a piece of jewellery's

value - means you don't think of it as much as it actually is.

So, it's like you didn't guess... you did the guess correctly, that's true; but you

guessed a lower value for something, or a lower strength, or a lower size, etc.

"Underlie" basically means be the foundation.

So, technically something lies under, but it's nothing physical.


It's just an idea.

So, the theory is underlied by certain other facts.

So these facts form the basis of a new theory about something else.

So, you can guess this meaning; something lies underneath, but generally it's not something


So you have to be careful that to know it's foundation or basis for something.

To "undercut", again, you could cut, like a tree, you undercut a tree means you're cutting

it at a lower level and it's topping over - but a more common use of "undercut", again,

and especially in business, means to offer a lower price for something.

So, for example, I have a company and this person has a company, and we are both bidding;

we're both making offers for our contract with the government.

This guy says he'll provide them with whatever the product is for $10 per unit.

Now, $10, he's making a little bit of a profit.

I say to the government: "Okay, I will do it for $9."

$9, I make almost no profit, but I get in with the government and I'll do something

else with them later.

So I undercut my competition by offering a price that he or she can't afford.


"Undercut" - offer for much less, and especially when you're talking about competition.

"Undermine", now this one is very hard to guess because "mine": "Oh, it's mine.

Like, this pen is mine", but that's not what it means here.

To "undermine" means to be tricky or sneaky about something.

So, both me and my friend here want to get a promotion at a company, so I will undermine


I will go to the boss or I will go to the manager and I'll say, you know: "This person,

he cheated on his last report.

He didn't actually make that many sales."

So I undermine his chances of promotion.

I'm a little bit tricky, I'm a little bit sneaky, I do something a little bit bad to

make him or her look worse, and I get the promotion.


So these are all verbs.

Now, we also have adjectives that are a little bit difficult to guess.

If something is "understated" it means it's a bit more subtle or delicate.

So, "subtle" doesn't... isn't spelled like it sounds, so I'll write it for you.

If something is subtle, it's not... it's not very obvious.


So, if someone... if a woman is wearing an understated dress, it means... like, let's

say she's very rich or she has a very good body, but her dress is understated means it's

not too showy or it doesn't show off her body too much.

It's just enough to be nice, but not enough to, like, shout for attention.


It's a good word, actually.

"Underhanded", it doesn't mean the bottom of your hand or the bottom of your hand; depends

which way you hold it.

"Underhanded" is also a little bit like "undermine".

"Undermine" is a verb; "underhanded" is an adjective.

If you're doing something that is underhanded, it's sneaky or tricky.

It's not really nice.

It's a little bit of a cheating way to get a certain goal or result, etc.

And then we have nouns.

Now, we had "undertake" basically means to do.

"Undertaker" - completely unrelated.

An "undertaker" is a person who prepares dead bodies for burial.

So, when a person dies, the family sends the body to the funeral home, or the undertaker

comes to their house and takes the body, and prepares it; like, if it does makeup, or if

it dresses it - again, different cultures, different ceremonies, but the undertaker is

that person who handles the dead body.


An "understudy"... it's....

Again, it's not a verb, even though "study" is a verb.

An "understudy" is a noun, and when you have, like, a play and you have an actor or actress

who has the lead role... now, the company that is producing the play wants to make sure

that nothing happens; like the show will go on, so they have an understudy.

This is a person who studies all the same lines, and practices and rehearses the same

as the main character.

If something bad happens to the main actor or actress, the understudy can come in and

take over until the main actor comes back.


It could literally mean "underworld", like Hell, like underneath our world there's another

world where the Devil lives or dead souls go to live; but in everyday use, it means,

like, the criminal world.

If you think about mafia or gangs, things like that - criminals live in a different

type of world; it's called the underworld.

And then "underwriter".

If you're talk... if you're thinking about business, an "underwriter" is a person who

will guarantee a loan.

So, usually you're talking about insurance companies or banks, so if they have... if

you take out a loan, somebody will underwrite your loan.

So if you can't make the payment, the bank doesn't worry about it because somebody else

will make the payment, and you'll pay that person back later.


So, again, a lot of these words you can guess.

The ones that you can't guess, hopefully I made them a bit clear here.

But, again, use the dictionary.

If you're not sure what a word means, don't guess.

Confirm in the dictionary or ask a native speaker who knows it, and make sure you know

all these words.

But in case you did get all these and you want to make sure you practice them, please

go to

There's a quiz where I will quiz you on all these words; make sure you actually understood


And, of course, don't forget you can ask me all the questions you want; I'll be happy

to explain these words or other words like them.

And don't forget to come back and subscribe to my channel, give me a like if you like

the video, and I'll see you again soon with more vocab, grammar, and other lessons.


The Description of English Vocabulary: Words with the prefix UNDER-