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What's the difference if both mean "to understand"? One source (spanish.about.com) says the comprender implies a deeper understanding than entender but that doesn't help much. Is there any thumb-rule around their usage? Any regionalism?

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  • se nota que no entendió bien :p Nov 24 '14 at 23:44
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Entender and comprender are generally synonymous, but of course have uses particular to each one (as mentioned, entender can be an alternate for to know, slang for to be gay, or legally meaning to affects or to pertain to). If a contrast must be made, however, it is that entender is a bit more superficial understanding as compared with comprender. It's better to see with some examples:

  • Para multiplicar dos números, tienes que ... ¿me entiendes?
    —Sí, te entiendo. (I understand the words that you are saying, that is, I can convert them to English in my head)
  • Para multiplicar dos números, tienes que ... ¿comprendes?
    —Sí, comprendo. (I understand the concept of multiplying, it all makes sense now, thanks for explaining it!)

  • Mi novia me ha dejado... ¿me entiendes?
    —Sí, te entiendo. (It means you're single, you've been played, you can't afford the apartment now, etc)

  • Mi novia me ha dejado... ¿me comprendes?
    —Sí, te comprendo. (I've been there man, I know what you're going through)

Part of the reason for this is evident if you look at the other meanings for comprender (from the DRAE):

comprender 1. tr. Abrazar, ceñir, rodear por todas partes algo. 2. tr. Contener, incluir en sí algo. U. t. c. prnl. 4. tr. Encontrar justificados o naturales los actos o sentimientos de otro.

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I would say that both words are complete synonyms, when they refer to to understand.

I don't think there is a proper rule of thumb, but I think I tend to use comprender when you understand something by your own means or studies, and enteder when you understand something because somebody explained something to you (meaning that there is some transmission of knowledge), but this may not apply to other Spanish speakers. Entender can also be used when there is some sort of understanding or communication between two entities.

Los dos jefes de proyecto se conocieron ese día y se entendieron a la primera.

Meaning that it didn't take long for the two project leaders to understand each other (understand motivations and goals or get to common ground or agreement). I would naturally favor entender over comprender on this context.

Also, entendercan also be used for the wisdom or knowledge you have gained (I would say that entender is a better synonym for saber (to know about something) than comprender is):

Lleva muchos años trabajando en IBM y entiende mucho de ordenadores.

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    Yes diego , you are right. I recommend the use of entender, because it´s easier and don´t sound ugly in some cases such as : "el comprende mucho las computadoras" too much ugly to my ears. If you look in google you can see the difference :: "entiende mucho" Aproximadamente 151.000 resultados "comprende mucho" Aproximadamente 74.300 resultados
    – user6968
    Nov 17 '14 at 6:04
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In Chilean Spanish there is a difference of formality. In colloquial use always use "entender". In formal situations (dissertations, written texts, journalism ...) can be used both, but "comprender" is more marked.

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My translation follows:

  • Comprender = to comprehend
  • Entender = to understand

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