‘Underneath, beneath, under and below’ are all similar in meaning and can mean ‘in a lower place or position; covered by something else.’ The difference between them is very subtle. So, it would be helpful to know what each word signifies:
Underneath = below the surface of; directly beneath; situated below or under something else; lower. We can prefer ‘underneath’ to ‘under’ to explain the location of something with a little more emphasis. ‘Underneath’ is also a little bit more emotional and exciting than ‘under’:
He wore khaki underwear underneath his pants.
Where did you find your keys? What? Underneath the doormat!
His flat is right underneath mine.
There’s another pair of sandals underneath the cot.
This metrorail goes right underneath the city.
The enforcement agencies checked his car underneath with vehicle inspection mirror.
When Jane was about to reveal a secret, Jack gave her a soft kick underneath the table.
When father came inside, Jack hid himself underneath the pool table.
In exams, she used to pass notes with friends underneath the table.
When Janet came from work, she found the invitation card underneath the matting.
Underneath that shy air, Sarah is a warm and open young woman.
She’s got to appear calm in front of the magistrate even if she’s terrified underneath.
Beneath = underneath so as to be hidden, covered, or protected; at a lower level or layer than; lower in grade or rank than. ‘Beneath’ is more formal than ‘under’ and is common in formal writing. We don’t use ‘beneath’ often in spoken English; in informal speaking, ‘under’ and ‘below’ are much more common:
He’s been smuggling cigarettes hidden beneath his jacket into the country.
Her teeth were chattering, and she lay back beneath her blankets.
There was a hidden locker beneath the fireplace, but it was capable of being seen by any detective agency.
He’s so self-centred that he acts like everybody else is beneath him.
Beneath is more common when we talk about the ground or surface directly under the feet:
They could feel the tremor because the ground beneath their feet was moving.
She went beneath the covers trying to get warm.
People who talk of gender equality often consider women as beneath them.
He was isolated and made to do demeaning tasks well beneath his abilities.
He accepted every assignment that came his way, never considering any job to be beneath him.
He refused to work for her as he found the offer to be beneath his status.
To raise a family and make a living, he accepted even lowpaying jobs he would consider beneath him at home.
When we talk about someone’s actions or decisions, we use ‘beneath’ to refer to the true emotions that a person is hiding:
Beneath his rugged exterior there was a soft-hearted and loving father.
Be careful! Beneath is not used with numbers:
They bought this old car for just beneath 2000 dollars. ✗
They bought this old car for just under 2000 dollars. √
Under = below (something covering or protecting); we use under to say that one thing is at a lower level than another, and that the other thing is directly above it. In most situations, we can prefer under to any of them. So, under is the default choice. If you are ever unsure which one to use, choose under.
Notice that when it comes to making a choice between below and under, under is more frequently used to refer to three-dimensional objects:
The cat hid under the bed.
The doctor put the thermometer under my tongue.
He stood under a tree (= below its branches) to take shelter from the hot sun.
He put the one dollar bill under the plate and turned around to find the waiter in his face.
Mr. Wilson held an umbrella under his arm (= between his upper arm and the side of his body).
On hearing the news about avalanche on television, Jane jumped out from under the covers.
Janet scrubbed a bowl and dunked it under the hot water.
Emily was under the covers now to protect herself from the bitterly cold.
The beggar jumped out from under the covers and grabbed the coins thrown at by a passer-by.
Sharon had hidden the phone under her pillow.
Jane put her signature to the agreement under her picture.
Wow! There’s something sparkling under the water.
She was wearing a white tank top under her coat.
Under his arm, he carried a blue umbrella.
The wooden overbridge collapsed under the weight of the swelling crowd.
The school will be under new administration starting in April.
Below = at a lower level or layer than; lower in grade or rank than; extending underneath. We normally use it to refer to one thing being at a much lower level than another. We prefer below to under to say the level of something on a flat plane. For example, if we’re talking about two articles that hang on a wall, we can say that one is below the other. We normally use below for things of a similar grouping:
She hung the silver artefact below the gold one.
Having read the document carefully, he signed below the dotted line.
We can also refer below to identify someone of a lower rank or with less power than someone else:
UK ranks below Jamaica, Latvia and Ghana for press freedom – global study
Like beneath, below can refer to people or things that are not worthy in some way or of a lower social ranking:
Though she is in love with Freddie, she doesn’t seem to be marrying below her family.
No one under the age of eighteen years shall be permitted to vote in any election in the US. (To refer to age)
Temperatures in Alberta’s Columbia Icefields fell to 10 below zero last week.
She lives in the apartment below mine. (in or to a lower position especially in the same building, hill, part of the body etc.)
He filled out his son’s admission form and signed it below the dotted line.