[ uhn-der-kur-uhnt, -kuhr- ]
/ ˈʌn dərˌkɜr ənt, -ˌkʌr- /
Save This Word!

a tendency underlying or at variance with the obvious or superficial significance of words, actions, etc.: Even in his friendliest remarks, one could sense an undercurrent of hostility.
a current, as of air or water, that flows below the upper currents or surface.
Do you know the difference between everyday US and UK terminology? Test yourself with this quiz on words that differ across the Atlantic.
Question 1 of 7
In the UK, COTTON CANDY is more commonly known as…

Origin of undercurrent

First recorded in 1675–85; under- + current
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What is an undercurrent?

An undercurrent is a flow of water or air that moves below the highest current or the surface.

Undercurrent is more often used figuratively to mean a tendency underlying or at odds with what’s on the surface, as in While the two candidates smiled and shook hands, everyone in the room could feel the undercurrent of aggression between them.

Example: The undercurrent at the beach today was so strong, I worried it was going to carry me out to sea!

Where does undercurrent come from?

The first records of the term undercurrent come from around 1675. It combines

the prefix under, used to indicate place or situation below or beneath, and the term current, which describes a flow or stream. In most cases, water and wind currents flow with the warmest on top and coolest on the bottom. Because of this, an undercurrent is usually colder than those above it.

Undercurrents are often talked about in meteorology and oceanography. The undercurrent of a storm may cause a cold front to come in, for example. When used figuratively, an undercurrent refers to a true significance or meaning of words that differ from what they seem to mean. For example, two people could say that they want to be friends while the undercurrent to their words is to make a business deal.

Did you know … ?

What are some synonyms for undercurrent?

What are some words that share a root or word element with undercurrent

What are some words that often get used in discussing undercurrent?

How is undercurrent used in real life?

Undercurrent is frequently used in its literal sense in discussions about water or weather. It is also often used figuratively, especially when the speaker thinks someone is hiding their true intentions.

Try using undercurrent!

Is undercurrent used correctly in the following sentence?

Did I sense an undercurrent of disdain in his comments about inclusivity in the workplace?

How to use undercurrent in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for undercurrent

/ (ˈʌndəˌkʌrənt) /

a current that is not apparent at the surface or lies beneath another current
an opinion, emotion, etc, lying beneath apparent feeling or meaning
Also called: underflow
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012