un·​der·​lie | \ ˌən-dər-ˈlī How to pronounce underlie (audio) \
underlay\ ˌən-​dər-​ˈlā How to pronounce underlie (audio) \; underlain\ ˌən-​dər-​ˈlān How to pronounce underlie (audio) \; underlying\ ˌən-​dər-​ˈlī-​iŋ How to pronounce underlie (audio) \

Definition of underlie

transitive verb

1 : to lie or be situated under
2 : to be at the basis of : form the foundation of : support ideas underlying the revolution
3 : to exist as a claim or security superior and prior to (another)
4 archaic : to be subject or amenable to

Examples of underlie in a Sentence

A tile floor underlies the rug. The river is underlain by limestone. We discussed the principles that underlay their methods. A theme of revenge underlies much of her writing.
Recent Examples on the Web Loose charcoal lines underlie the soft colors, as if the original drawings had only partially transmuted into paintings. Washington Post, 29 Apr. 2022 Our study helps clarify the biological processes that underlie ALS risk factors and disease progression, and could potentially be used to develop new treatments or preventive interventions. Jan Veldink, The Conversation, 13 Apr. 2022 Constitutive laws underlie most physical processes in nature. Caroline Delbert, Popular Mechanics, 24 Mar. 2022 Van Gennep argued that certain universal principles underlie rites of passage across cultures and eras. Dhruv Khullar, The New Yorker, 11 Jan. 2022 The unmet needs of residents underlie the majority of these episodes. Eilon Caspi, STAT, 30 Nov. 2021 Local, highly-emitting energy sources such as lignite, are particularly difficult to phase out, as their extraction and use often underlie the existence of entire local communities. Baker Institute, Forbes, 29 Oct. 2021 The blockchains that underlie all this are just ledgers of information stored on many different computers at once. Christopher Mims, WSJ, 18 Dec. 2021 That’s clearly not good enough, says Cynthia Bulik, who is looking for more effective treatment possibilities by studying the genetics that underlie eating disorders. Kendall Powell, Smithsonian Magazine, 17 Dec. 2021 See More

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

First Known Use of underlie

before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 4

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The first known use of underlie was before the 12th century

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Dictionary Entries Near underlie

under license



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Last Updated

15 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Underlie.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/underlie. Accessed 17 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for underlie


un·​der·​lie | \ ˌən-dər-ˈlī How to pronounce underlie (audio) \
underlay\ -​ˈlā \; underlain\ -​ˈlān \; underlying\ -​ˈlī-​iŋ \

Kids Definition of underlie

1 : to lie or be located under A tile floor underlies the rug.
2 : to form the foundation of : support What ideals underlie democracy?


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