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TOEFL Tuesday: Vocabulary – “Under” Words

I hope you saw last week’s video lesson, because this week we’re continuing the same general theme: vocabulary words from Official TOEFL iBT Tests Volume 2. But I’m going to change the specific theme. Last week, it was three “minimal” words. This week, I’m talking about three words including “under.”

To be clear, these are not phrasal verbs (like “go under,” meaning “become bankrupt”); they are single words that include the letters u-n-d-e-r. Take a look at the first word to understand better…

(to) Undertake

See how it’s all one word? “Take under” is completely different. “Undertake” is not a phrasal verb, although it does conjugate in the same way that “take” does. The past tense is “undertook,” and the third form (past participle) is “undertaken.”

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“To undertake” means to start a large job or project, or to at least say you will start it. There is a feeling of a promise in the word. It feels like responsibility. Other people want a project to be done, and you promise you will take the responsibility of the big, difficult project.

For example, imagine a war that destroys many buildings in a city. After the war is over, the government wants to rebuild the city. So the government undertakes reconstruction. They will be responsible for the project.

(to) Undergo

Although it looks very similar to “undertake,” the meaning is quite different. “To undergo” is to experience a process—usually a difficult or painful process that changes you in a way, but is needed. One clear example of this is surgery. If you are very sick, and you need an operation, you will undergo surgery. Note that this verb also conjugates irregularly: the past tense is “underwent.”

Let’s return to that example of a city in a war. During the war, the city underwent large transformations. For example, maybe a school became a shelter for people who lost their homes. It’s a difficult change and a long process that the city experienced.

(to be) Underway

So we talked about two “under” verbs. Now let’s look at the adjective “underway.” This word is pretty easy, really. First, note that it’s rarely used before a noun. It’s usually after a verb, as in “the project is underway.” You won’t normally see “the underway project.”

This word means “happening now.” It’s used for large projects or changes that have already started, and will continue for a longer time. In that example of the city after a war, if the government is still rebuilding today, you can say the city’s reconstruction is underway. It is a large change that was planned earlier, started, and will be finished in the future.


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