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I know the phrases "I understand" (present) and "I understood" (past).

But recently I saw the phrases "I was understanding" and "I am understanding" (e.g. "Okay. I was understanding it"). I think they are incorrect. Maybe I am wrong about it. Can you please tell me are they correct? And if "yes", in what cases I should use them?

  • My understanding of the issue at hand is good. "Okay. I was understanding it" is fine if for example you were writing what you thought. – Paul Zahra Apr 23 '15 at 11:46
  • Mmm, welcome to ELL! Have you considered studying some tenses? Specifically, the progressive aspect? – M.A.R. Apr 23 '15 at 12:25
  • Partly answered by ell.stackexchange.com/q/56484/10820, regarding present tenses at least. (Note: I wrote the answer to that.) – Nathan Tuggy Jul 25 '15 at 21:33
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I can give you a context in which each phrase is used in every-day speech.

"I was understanding" as denoting a process, as in, "While you were explaining this difficult topic to me, I was understanding it for the first time."

"I am understanding" as denoting a current state, as in, "Thank you for explaining this. I am understanding you to mean [give example/s]. Is that correct?"

I hope this is useful.

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  • Maybe some really say I 'm understanding what you mean. The continuous forms are so frequently used that sometimes one gets the impression they are overused. I can't say the above sentence is wrong, the use of continuous forms is very flexible, but I would prefer: Now I understand what you mean. Maybe I prefer this formulation because I'm German. – rogermue May 26 '15 at 18:45
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To understand is a form of a stative verb. They refer to states (experiences, conditions), unlike dynamic verbs that refer to actions or changing situations. Stative verbs are not generally used in progressive/continuous forms, such as present progressive or past progressive tense, given in your examples. So, the examples are not correct.

In addition to stative and dynamic verbs, some can be both, depending on the context.

I used a printed version of LEG as a reference, but "Perfect English Grammar" website (link provided above) also explains this nicely.

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    It's true that understand is usually a stative verb and therefore doesn't appear in the progressive. And I think this explanation is very helpful for learners, but it's not 100% accurate on its own. In reality, very few verbs are entirely incompatible with the progressive; when understand is used in the progressive, it turns it into a dynamic verb and therefore adds dynamic meaning, and this can come in several types, for example waxing/waning: "I'm understanding more and more every day." See The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, p.167. – snailplane Jul 25 '15 at 23:26

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