One verb at a time
Entender The best verb to use when talking about our understanding (or lack of it) in Spanish is “entender”. This goes against what a lot of English speakers like to think, as they find the verb “comprender” easier to remember. This is obviously because “comprender” is similar to the English word “comprehend” but in fact, when we’re talking about understanding the spoken or written word, rather than a situation, “entender” is used more commonly.
“Entender” is a rootchanging verb, which means that in the present tense, and by extension the present subjunctive, the second “e” changes to “ie” in four of its six forms. Therefore “I understand” is “entiendo” (and “I dont´ understand” is “no entiendo”). In all other tenses and forms “entender” is a completely regular, standard verb.
Going back to the general tendency to use the phrase “no comprendo” or even “no comprende” for “I dont´ understand”, I have a cautionary tale for you. It is quite likely that a Spanish person who is explaining a situation to you – why your car hasnt´ been fixed because the parts are still on order but yesterday was a bank holiday in Madrid, for example – that the explanation is completed with a questioning “¿Comprende?” This means “(Do) you understand?” (and not “I understand). I think this is what some people pounce on as a word they can use in all situations. A while ago I was told the story of some wellmeaning expat whose car was stopped by the Guardia Civil. In response to whatever the policeman said to the driver, he replied with “No comprende”, which he thought meant “I dont´ understand” but in actually fact meant “You dont´ understand, or comprehend”. Apparently the Guardia reacted rather badly, which I think you’ll agree is a situation to be avoided.
A useful phrase that means “as far as I understand it” is “a mi entender” (literally - to my understanding). However, when we try to reach a mutual