These are two powerful verbs. They transmit important messages. They look very similar and most of my learners seem to be a little confused as to how they should be used .
Let’s put them in context:
- She is understating the problem because she doesn’t want to worry anyone. (i.e. she is deliberately making the problem seem smaller than what is it. )
- She is underestimating the problem. If she doesn’t deal with it, the issue will become uncontrollable. (i.e. she is estimating or calculating that the problem is smaller than what it is)
Underestimating is like under-guessing something whereas understating is minimizing on purpose.
Here are a few more examples with different parts of speech:
- To say that I didn’t like that candidate is an understatement. (i.e. I hated him.)
- Jennifer has always been underestimated by her supervisor. (i.e. she has not been given the right recognition)
- Her appearance is always understated. (i.e. simple not gaudy nor heavily decorated)
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p.s. EFL trainers, I used this as a warmer last week with a B1 learner. It actually got him talking about feeling underestimated at work…