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.
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Recent Examples on the Web 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 Their work, published Thursday in Science, pinpoints for the first time the precise timing and location of minute brain changes that underlie the formation and consolidation of new memories. Megan Molteni, STAT, 15 Nov. 2021 However, no detail of the judicial reasons that underlie the auction sale have been disclosed. CNN, 27 Oct. 2021 Thomas Andrillon of the Paris Brain Institute grew interested in the neural mechanisms that underlie daydreaming while on an extended road trip with his wife. Karen Hopkin, Scientific American, 15 Sep. 2021 Research has explained some of the physical mechanisms that underlie our enjoyment of light touch. Jessica Wapner, The New Yorker, 6 Nov. 2021 Well, if that’s the case, then what Tononi and Edelman argued was that the mechanisms that underlie conscious experiences in the brain or in the body should also co-express these properties of information and integration. Quanta Magazine, 30 Sep. 2021

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.

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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

3 Jan 2022

Cite this Entry

“Underlie.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/underlie. Accessed 24 Jan. 2022.

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More Definitions for underlie



English Language Learners Definition of underlie

: to lie or be located under (something)
: to form the basis or foundation of (an idea, a process, etc.)


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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