com·pre·hen·sion | \ ˌkäm-pri-ˈhen(t)-shən , -prē- \

Definition of comprehension 

1a : the act or action of grasping with the intellect : understanding children who have difficulty with comprehension of spoken language What the artist actually needs is comprehension of his aims and ideals by men he respects … —H. L. Mencken

b : knowledge gained by comprehending tests that measure the students' comprehension in math She carried on with full comprehension of the risk involved.

c : the capacity for understanding fully mysteries that are beyond our comprehension The war caused suffering beyond comprehension.

2a : the act or process of comprising the comprehension of all the denominations into one Church

b : the faculty or capability of including : comprehensiveness the broad comprehension of the word "animal"

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Examples of comprehension in a Sentence

The students showed excellent reading comprehension. the president's comprehension of the current situation in the Middle East

Recent Examples on the Web

Sounds are more muted these days because there are too many of them, every utterance equally weighted and demanding of us total comprehension. Jason Kehe, WIRED, "The Real Reason You Use Closed Captions for Everything Now," 26 June 2018 The median reading comprehension level in English of deaf high school graduates is fourth grade, according to the complaint. Maria Clark,, "Deaf Slidell resident sues local nursing home over inadequate interpreter service," 6 June 2018 Apple's Siri voice navigation service has been criticized for various content issues over the years, including lackluster language support and emergency comprehension. Sam Machkovech, Ars Technica, "iPhone’s weirdest glitch yet: Ask Siri to define “mother” twice, learn a bad word," 29 Apr. 2018 Some 23 million American adults are functionally illiterate by the simplest tests of everyday reading, writing, and comprehension. Valerie Strauss, Washington Post, "‘A Nation at Risk’ demanded education reform 35 years ago. Here’s how it’s been bungled ever since.," 26 Apr. 2018 One of those cognitive scientists spoke on the Tuesday panel: Daniel Willingham, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia who writes about the science behind reading comprehension. Natalie Wexler, The Atlantic, "Why American Students Haven't Gotten Better at Reading in 20 Years," 13 Apr. 2018 Audiobooks are another good resource and can help boost a child’s comprehension skills. Zafreen Jaffery, Ed.d., miamiherald, "Bake cookies. Head to the library. Ways to keep your child's brain sharp during the summer," 27 June 2018 Essential for deaf people and English language learners, and scientifically shown to promote reading comprehension and retention, subtitles have only recently become essential for many TV watchers, period. Jason Kehe, WIRED, "The Real Reason You Use Closed Captions for Everything Now," 26 June 2018 The programs are paying off, according to Swan-Altieri, who has seen higher test scores in reading comprehension and math computation. Jessica Peralta,, "United Way programs help Anaheim students with math, English and computer science," 21 June 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'comprehension.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of comprehension

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for comprehension

Middle French & Latin; Middle French, from Latin comprehension-, comprehensio, from comprehendere to understand, comprise

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Last Updated

20 Sep 2018

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Time Traveler for comprehension

The first known use of comprehension was in the 15th century

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More Definitions for comprehension



English Language Learners Definition of comprehension

: ability to understand


com·pre·hen·sion | \ ˌkäm-pri-ˈhen-shən \

Kids Definition of comprehension

: ability to understand reading comprehension beyond comprehension

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Comments on comprehension

What made you want to look up comprehension? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


to deposit or conceal in a hiding place

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