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Definition 1a for "emerge" of this dictionary reads:

to become known or apparent

Definition 3 reads:

used to indicate the usually good state or condition of someone or something at the end of an event, process, etc.

Both definitions seem to fit the following:

Two new superpowers emerged from the Second World War

What do native speakers think?

  • I think it is obvious which one of those two definitions better fits the context especially given the actual sentences and the ideas they convey that come before and after the sentence in question. So, if you have to guess between the two definitions, which one would you pick and why? We're more interested in the thinking process of the person who posts the question... – user6951 Jun 2 '15 at 6:51
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    I also think that in the sentence prior, it should be Britain's with an apostrophe. – user6951 Jun 2 '15 at 6:52
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    In this sentence I equate emerge with arose, developed or came into being much like a seedling emerges from a seed pod when it germinates. Interestingly of the definitions given in your reference, I'd pick 1b or 2 as the best fits rather than the choices you offer. – Jim Jun 2 '15 at 9:22
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Neither of the definitions you identified is correct for this sentence.

Consider the first, 1a, "to become known." This implies that the two superpowers existed as two superpowers before the war, but only after the war did their existence as superpowers become apparent. I suspect that the actual intention of the sentence is to say that before the war there were more superpowers, or a different set of superpowers, or possibly no superpowers, and after the war there were two superpowers. Therefore, the situation that existed after the war did not "become known"; rather, it came into being.

Consider the second definition you identified, 3, "indicating a state." Look at the examples, which both have the form "emerged X," where X is the "usually good state" being indicated. This formula is, however, absent from the sentence under consideration. If the sentence were "...two superpowers emerged victorious after the Second World War," then definition 3 would apply.

The definition that fits here is 2, "to rise or appear from a hidden or unknown place or condition: to come out into view." I'm not sure why this is listed second, since it is closer to the original meaning of the word, or at least of its Latin source. I would consider the "from a hidden or unknown place or condition" to be superfluous; I would just define "to emerge" as "to come out."

Wiktionary has the fitting definition "to come out of a situation, object or a liquid," with the similar example "The Soviet Union emerged from the ruins of an empire."

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I think we native speakers often don't separate meanings of a verb according to definitions. A verb such as "emerge" in the example you gave has a number of different suggestions for us and such suggestions might well differ for each of us and change according to context. For me the two definitions you gave are only the beginning. Both fit and there are a number of other definitions that would also fit. This is usual. Finally I think you understand the meaning of a word on a more complex, higher level. You, somehow, get a feeling for what it means.

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