ex·plain | \ik-ˈsplān \
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

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from explain

explainable \ik-ˈsplā-nə-bəl \ adjective
explainer noun

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

Burton’s attorney, Buddy Parker, said in May psychiatric testing could help explain how the respected doctor fell so far after decades of service to counties including Cobb, Gwinnett, DeKalb and Clayton. Joshua Sharpe, ajc, "Renowned Atlanta doctor who traded pills for sex pleads guilty in Cobb," 13 July 2018 That may help explain a lot, from Britain’s poor productivity record to the Brexit mess. The Economist, "A welcome upgrade to apprenticeships," 12 July 2018 That dearth can be explained in part by the durational intensity of many of his greatest works—which often clock in at more than an hour, and demand intense concentration and focus from its players. Peter Margasak, Chicago Reader, "Two Chicago pianists perform a pair of rarely heard masterpieces by Morton Feldman," 12 July 2018 The Reno Gazette-Journal reached out to two medical experts to help explain how each of Nevada's lethal injection drugs (fentanyl, diazepam and cisatracurium) work and how they're used in medicine. Ken Ritter, USA TODAY, "Nevada execution in doubt after pharmaceutical company lawsuit," 11 July 2018 With World Cup costs for travel and tickets — $105 for the cheapest seats at group games for visitors — always rising, the different audience for games helps explain changing patterns of behavior. Graham Dunbar, chicagotribune.com, "Sexism tops racism as a World Cup fan problem in Russia," 11 July 2018 This probably helps explain why Vicks eases the sensation of itch. Houston Chronicle, "Vicks VapoRub for poison ivy itch," 8 July 2018 The Federal Reserve continues to hold large amounts of long-term bonds on their balance sheet and demand by foreign investors is strong, which helps explain why long-term rates are not also rising. Phillip Molnar, sandiegouniontribune.com, "Is a flattening yield curve a sign of a coming recession?," 6 July 2018 After Pfizer deferred hefty price hikes under pressure from President Trump, a lawmaker is asking the company and the administration to explain the details of any agreements that may have been reached as part of the sudden about-face. Ed Silverman, STAT, "Lawmaker wants to know if Trump and Pfizer cut any secret deals," 11 July 2018

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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about explain

Phrases Related to explain

hasten to add/say/explain (etc.)

Statistics for explain

Last Updated

10 Oct 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for explain

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

See more words from the same century

Keep scrolling for more

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 \
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.

Keep scrolling for more

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).


lying above or upon

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Words from Greek and Roman Mythology Quiz

  • the-triumph-of-venus-by-alessandro-magnasco
  • Boreal comes from the name of the ancient Greek god of which wind?
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!


Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.


Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!