ex·​plain ik-ˈsplān How to pronounce explain (audio)
explained; explaining; explains

transitive verb

: to make known
explain the secret of your success
: to make plain or understandable
footnotes that explain the terms
: to give the reason for or cause of
unable to explain his strange conduct
: to show the logical development or relationships of
explained the new theory

intransitive verb

: to make something plain or understandable
a report that suggests rather than explains
explainable adjective
explain oneself
: to clarify one's statements or the reasons for one's conduct
Choose the Right Synonym for explain

explain, expound, explicate, elucidate, interpret mean to make something clear or understandable.

explain implies a making plain or intelligible what is not immediately obvious or entirely known.

explain the rules

expound implies a careful often elaborate explanation.

expounding a scientific theory

explicate adds the idea of a developed or detailed analysis.

explicate a poem

elucidate stresses the throwing of light upon as by offering details or motives previously unclear or only implicit.

elucidate an obscure passage

interpret adds to explain the need for imagination or sympathy or special knowledge in dealing with something.

interpreting a work of art

Examples of explain in a Sentence

I need a lawyer to explain this contract to me. The professor explained the poem to the class. She explained how the machine worked. I explained to them that I would be available by phone. Scientists could not explain the strange lights in the sky. I don't know how to explain the dog's strange behavior. We asked him to explain his reasons to us. Can you explain why no one was informed earlier? That explains why we were so far behind schedule. Give me a chance to explain. See More
Recent Examples on the Web One reason, explain doctors, is that metformin can impact certain biomarkers, changing growth hormone levels and testosterone levels in men. Ali Finney, Vogue, 27 Nov. 2023 This book is full of resources that help adults explain to children the behaviors associated with mental illness. Nafeesah Allen, Parents, 26 Nov. 2023 In the latest edition of the What's News podcast, WSJ Middle East correspondent Stephen Kalin explains what this means for aid entering the Gaza Strip and the release of hostages. WSJ, 25 Nov. 2023 Hope then wanted her mom to explain the new vocabulary word. Erin Clack, Peoplemag, 25 Nov. 2023 When simple imitation fell short, the stagers went deeper, explaining the principles behind Bausch’s movement style. Marina Harss, New York Times, 25 Nov. 2023 None of the founders could explain why San Diego previously didn’t have a parks foundation, unlike pretty much every major city in California and the nation. David Garrick, San Diego Union-Tribune, 24 Nov. 2023 But that wasn't always the plan for the characters, Cox explained in her post. Caitlin O'Kane, CBS News, 15 Nov. 2023 Lenina Huxley, Spartan’s ’90s-loving partner, explains that alcohol, caffeine, contact sports, meat, bad language and gasoline, among other things, are banned. Kabir Chibber, New York Times, 15 Nov. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'explain.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Middle English explanen, from Latin explanare, literally, to make level, from ex- + planus level, flat — more at floor

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 1b

Time Traveler
The first known use of explain was in the 15th century

Dictionary Entries Near explain

Cite this Entry

“Explain.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/explain. Accessed 2 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


ex·​plain ik-ˈsplān How to pronounce explain (audio)
: to make plain or understandable
: to give the reason for or cause of
explainable adjective
explainer noun

More from Merriam-Webster on explain

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