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

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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.
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Recent Examples on the Web

In a blog post published Tuesday, Segura explained: By tampering with the data, the second skimmer can send an invalid but almost correct credit card number to the competing skimmer. Dan Goodin, Ars Technica, "E-commerce site is infected not by one, but two card skimmers," 20 Nov. 2018 Forbes also explains that their findings are compiled pretax, not accounting for money paid to agents, managers, and lawyers. Megan Stein, Country Living, "'NCIS' Star Mark Harmon Is Officially One of the Highest Paid Actors on TV," 30 Oct. 2018 Some quantum effects are hiding in plain sight, blatantly and beautifully obvious, like the sun’s rays and the twinkling of the stars — something else that couldn’t be fully explained before the advent of quantum mechanics. Tim Folger, Discover Magazine, "How Quantum Mechanics Lets Us See, Smell and Touch," 24 Oct. 2018 In an interview with the BBC (via Woman's Day) in 2016, Countess Sophie explained that Lady Louise hadn't realized how famous her grandmother really was. Amy Mackelden, Harper's BAZAAR, "Who Is Lady Louise Windsor? Princess Eugenie's 'Special Attendant' Is Also Her Cousin," 12 Oct. 2018 That latter number explains why the duo refers to the big candidate object as a satellite, Teachey said. Mike Wall, Space.com, "First Exomoon Found? Neptune-Sized World Possibly Spotted Orbiting Alien Planet," 3 Oct. 2018 The Chronicle published a lengthy This World article by Gordon Pates, which spent most of its 3,000 words explaining in detail exactly how a drive-in works. Peter Hartlaub, SFChronicle.com, "SF almost had a Sutro Drive-In in 1950, and more local outdoor movie history," 13 July 2018 In the post, Phillips explains that the Comunidad el Oso Ultimate Club was en route from Columbus Wednesday night when the driver stopped the bus and forced the team members off with their luggage. Randy Tucker, Cincinnati.com, "Colombian ultimate Frisbee players headed to Cincinnati were kicked off Greyhound for speaking Spanish. Greyhound says otherwise.," 13 July 2018 Dusty explained, in WCW now, everything has gone like the movies. Jay Reddick, OrlandoSentinel.com, "Col. Robert Parker having fun in MLW after 20 years away from wrestling," 12 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.

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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

5 Dec 2018

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 \
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).


to move with a clumsy heavy tread

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