We may earn a commission when you buy through links in our articles. Learn more.

DnD Comprehend Languages 5e spell guide

Need to cast the DnD Comprehend Languages 5e spell quickly? Here’s a snappy spell guide to keep your Dungeons and Dragons campaign moving.

DnD Comprehend Languages 5e - Wizards of the Coast art of three villagers chatting

The DnD Comprehend Languages spell is a simple utility option that allows you to overcome language barriers in your Dungeons and Dragons game. Want to decipher some important documents, but can’t speak Draconic? Comprehend Languages. Need to know what your Fey foes are plotting, but you don’t understand Sylvan? It’s time for Comprehend Languages 5e. The spell is useful for roleplay – but that doesn’t mean it’s obvious how it works. So here’s a guide to make the Comprehend Languages spell as clear as crystal.

We’ll examine the exact wording of the 5e spell in the core DnD books. Plus, we can tell you which DnD classes get to cast Comprehend Languages. With the basics out of the way, we’ll dive deep into the specifics of actually using the spell, so you’ll know when you can and can’t cast it in your DnD campaigns. And if you need a reminder about DnD languages, we’ve got a handy guide to help with that, too.

Let’s talk languages and how to comprehend them:

DnD Comprehend Languages 5e - Wizards of the Coast art of fantasy creatures chatting in a market

What is Comprehend Languages 5e?

Spell level 1
Casting time 1 action (or Ritual casting)
Range Self
Duration 1 hour
School Divination
Components Verbal, Somatic, and Material (a pinch of soot and salt)

According to the Player’s Handbook, Comprehend Languages allows you to “understand the literal meaning of any spoken language that you hear”. You can also understand a page of written language, but only if you touch the surface on which it’s written. You’ll also need to spend a minute per page reading.

Glyphs or symbols that aren’t part of a language can’t be understood using this spell. Similarly, you can’t use it to decode secret messages or ciphers.

DnD Comprehend Languages 5e - Wizards of the Coast art of an adventuring party examining a spellbook

Secret languages

The official spell description contains a key phrase that’s easy to overlook, and that’s “literal meaning”. Essentially, you might be able to translate the words being said, but you might be unclear on what they mean. A native speaker of a language may use metaphors or jargon that aren’t found in Common, and Comprehend Languages won’t explain these to you.

This shouldn’t cause too much confusion in most campaigns. Unless your Dungeon Master is a budding linguist, they probably haven’t created language-specific slang for all their NPCs. However, there is one specific situation where this rule comes into play: Thieves’ Cant.

The Player’s Handbook describes Thieves’ Cant as “a secret mix of dialect, jargon, and code that allows you to hide messages in seemingly normal conversation”. This means it’s not a language of its own in the traditional sense. Two DnD Rogues need to share another language in order to communicate in Thieves’ Cant, and their conversation will be filled with code words referring to something else. Casting Comprehend Languages on the pair won’t yield any results.

Not all secret languages are off the table, though. DnD Druids can have private conversations in Druidic, but Comprehend Languages would allow you to join the chat. This is because Druidic is a separate language of its own rather than a coded version of an existing one. The only reason it’s a secret is because Druids will only teach it to other Druids. They might be peeved that you’re listening in, but you will be able to understand them.

DnD Comprehend Languages 5e - Wizards of the Coast art of three Dragonborn drinking together

Speaking versus understanding

It’s also key to note that, in the rules as written, Comprehend Languages does not give you the ability to speak a language. You can eavesdrop to your heart’s content, but you can’t actually join in. If you want to do that, you’ll need to cast a higher-level spell.

Specifically, we’re talking about Tongues. This is a third-level divination spell that allows you to understand and speak a spoken language you can hear. It’s not so helpful for written languages, but it has a lot more utility if you want to communicate with a target.

DnD Comprehend Languages 5e - Wizards of the Cost art of a Gnome Wizard studying books

Who can cast Comprehend Languages 5e?

Four classes have access to Comprehend Languages:

If you’re desperate to give this spell to your character, a 5e feat like Magic Initiate will give you the chance. DnD Clerics who feel left out might be better off taking Tongues instead, as that’s part of their spell list.

For more character options, here’s everything you need to know about DnD races and DnD backgrounds.