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

Definition of explain

transitive verb

1a : to make known explain the secret of your success
b : to make plain or understandable footnotes that explain the terms
2 : to give the reason for or cause of unable to explain his strange conduct
3 : 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
explain oneself
: to clarify one's statements or the reasons for one's conduct

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Other Words from explain

explainable \ ik-​ˈsplā-​nə-​bəl How to pronounce explainable (audio) \ adjective

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.
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Recent Examples on the Web

The anatomy of the ear and the hearing process will be discussed and interpretation of an audiogram will be explained. Wendy Grove, Glendale News-Press, "On Campus at GCC: Glendale Community College fair to welcome new students with booths, music, food," 12 Aug. 2019 In this op-ed, Teen Vogue writer Gianluca Russo explains why the Cinderella Story franchise should expand in the areas of representation and inclusion. Gianluca Russo, Teen Vogue, "It's Time For a More Inclusive "Cinderella Story"," 11 Aug. 2019 Cerretti will explain how militarism has been mobilized through ideas about gender and sexuality. Mary Ann Grossmann, Twin Cities, "‘The Girls Are Gone’ authors appear in reading series in this week’s literary events," 11 Aug. 2019 Discover Magazine's mission is to enable readers to lead richer lives by explaining and expanding their universe. Anna Groves, Discover Magazine, "Table of Contents September/October 2019," 11 Aug. 2019 Brexit was the petri dish for Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, Cadwalladr explains in the film. Hal Boedeker, orlandosentinel.com, "‘Great Hack’ journalist stands out in stunning documentary," 10 Aug. 2019 But as Variety explains, Designated Survivor dipped from an average of 12.1 million viewers during season one to 8.6 million during season two. Matthew De Silva, Quartzy, "“Designated Survivor” was the political drama conservatives needed to watch," 8 Aug. 2019 Steve Burger, a deputy director overseeing the work, explained to the La Cañada Flintridge City Council and residents a tire wash approved in June could be operational by the month’s end. Sara Cardine, La Cañada Valley Sun, "County criticized for not taking action on Devil’s Gate dust concerns," 7 Aug. 2019 Moreover, many theorists feel uneasy about the Standard Model’s inability to explain its own basic truths, such as why there are three families of quarks and leptons, and what determines the particles’ masses. Quanta Magazine, "A Call for Courage as Physicists Confront Collider Dilemma," 7 Aug. 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'explain.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of explain

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

History and Etymology for explain

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

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Statistics for explain

Last Updated

15 Aug 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for explain

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

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More Definitions for explain



English Language Learners Definition of explain

: to make (something) clear or easy to understand
: to tell, show, or be the reason for or cause of something


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

Kids Definition of explain

1 : to make clear : clarify Let me explain how it works.
2 : to give the reasons for or cause of Please explain why you're late.

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More from Merriam-Webster on explain

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for explain

Spanish Central: Translation of explain

Nglish: Translation of explain for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of explain for Arabic Speakers

Comments on explain

What made you want to look up explain? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


a period when something is suspended

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