un·​der·​lie | \ ˌən-dər-ˈlī How to pronounce underlie (audio) \
underlay\ ˌən-​dər-​ˈlā How to pronounce underlay (audio) \; underlain\ ˌən-​dər-​ˈlān How to pronounce underlain (audio) \; underlying\ ˌən-​dər-​ˈlī-​iŋ How to pronounce underlying (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.
See More
Recent Examples on the Web All terrible crises in their own right, but exacerbated by underlying societal norms. Wired, "Climate Change Is Brutal for Everyone, But Worse for Women," 25 Nov. 2019 Moreover, the modern music, with its staccato percussion, jarring shifts, and atonal chords (conducted by Steven Crawford), is perfectly suited to underlie this feeling of unease and disorientation. Nicholas M. Gallagher, National Review, "The Vietnam War at the Kentucky Opera," 23 Nov. 2019 But why do these different types of meat exist, and what underlies these differences? Joshua Selsby, The Conversation, "Light versus dark – the color of the turkey meat is due to the job of the muscle," 21 Nov. 2019 The bank busts in 2019 appear idiosyncratic, meaning there are few signs of underlying turmoil that is likely to spread to other lenders. John Detrixhe, Quartz, "Three US banks have gone bust in recent weeks, after a failure-free 2018," 18 Nov. 2019 But the museum’s underlying goal is to educate visitors about women’s health and destigmatize the female body. Suyin Haynes, Time, "'We Want to Tackle That Stigma.' Inside the World's First Museum Dedicated to the Vagina," 15 Nov. 2019 In some instances, there was an underlying sense of appreciation for black culture by those who put on blackface. Brianna Holt, Quartzy, "Teens on TikTok have no clue they’re perpetuating racist stereotypes," 1 Nov. 2019 Aramco’s underlying strategy is to be the last oilman standing if the industry shrinks, pointing to the upheavals to come. The Economist, "The message from the world’s biggest and wildest IPO," 31 Oct. 2019 But a long-running search for genes underlying this severe psychiatric condition has yielded only indirect clues. Jocelyn Kaiser, Science | AAAS, "Intensive DNA search yields 10 genes tied directly to schizophrenia," 25 Oct. 2019

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.

See More

First Known Use of underlie

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about underlie

Time Traveler for underlie

Time Traveler

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

See more words from the same century

Statistics for underlie

Last Updated

1 Dec 2019

Cite this Entry

“Underlie.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/underlie?pronunciation&lang=en_us&dir=u&file=underl06. Accessed 14 December 2019.

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for underlie


How to pronounce underlie (audio)

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?

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on underlie

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


to assail by words or arguments

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Great Scrabble Words—A Quiz

  • scrabble tiles that read scrabble quiz
  • Which of the following Q-without-U words means the number five in cards or dice?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Add Diction

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!