verb (used with object), underlay, underlain, underlying.
to lie under or beneath; be situated under.
to be at the basis of; form the foundation of.
Grammar. to function as the root morpheme or original or basic form of (a derived form): The form “boy” underlies “boyish.”
Finance. to be primary to another right or security.

before 900; Middle English underlyen (v.), Old English underlicgan. See under-, lie2

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Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
underlie (ˌʌndəˈlaɪ)
vb , -lies, -lying, -lay, -lain
1.  to lie or be placed under or beneath
2.  to be the foundation, cause, or basis of: careful planning underlies all our decisions
3.  finance to take priority over (another claim, liability, mortgage, etc): a first mortgage underlies a second
4.  to be the root or stem from which (a word) is derived: "happy" underlies "happiest"

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
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Word Origin & History

O.E. under licgan "to be subordinate to, to submit to;" see under + lie (v.2). Meaning "to lie under or beneath" is attested from 1600; fig. sense of "to be the basis of" is attested from 1852 (implied in underlying).
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Example sentences
And these scientists are investigating the physical responses that underlie the
  functioning of our fingers and skin.
Primary heat exchange occurs through specialized heat exchange-vascular
  structures that underlie the non-insulated body surfaces.
In strict science all persons underlie the same condition of an infinite
In short, the necessity of philosophy follows from the genuineness of the
  problems that underlie religion.
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