verb ex·plain \ ik-ˈsplān \
|Updated on: 15 Aug 2018

Definition of explain

explained; explaining; explains
1 a : 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
: to make something plain or understandable
  • a report that suggests rather than explains


play \ik-ˈsplā-nə-bəl\ adjective


explain oneself
: to clarify one's statements or the reasons for one's conduct

Examples of explain in a Sentence

  1. I need a lawyer to explain this contract to me.

  2. The professor explained the poem to the class.

  3. She explained how the machine worked.

  4. I explained to them that I would be available by phone.

  5. Scientists could not explain the strange lights in the sky.

  6. I don't know how to explain the dog's strange behavior.

  7. We asked him to explain his reasons to us.

  8. Can you explain why no one was informed earlier?

  9. That explains why we were so far behind schedule.

  10. Give me a chance to explain.

Recent Examples of explain from the Web

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.

Origin and Etymology of explain

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

Synonym Discussion of 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

EXPLAIN Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of explain for English Language Learners

  • : to make (something) clear or easy to understand

  • : to tell, show, or be the reason for or cause of something

EXPLAIN Defined for Kids


verb ex·plain \ ik-ˈsplān \

Definition of explain for Students

explained; explaining
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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having an air of easy unconcern

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