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

Rather than assume new hires are getting the word, companies should take every opportunity to explain the value of retirement savings plans and encourage participation. Liz Weston, chicagotribune.com, "Survey: 3 in 10 workers don’t even know if employers offer retirement plans," 1 July 2019 But something just feels off here, which might explain the Pokémon game’s cold reception at launch. David Pierce, WSJ, "The Problem With ‘Harry Potter: Wizards Unite’," 30 June 2019 Evangelical creationists Tom and Cheryl Cantor run the Creation and Earth History Museum, dedicated to scientifically explaining the biblical account of creation. Martina Schimitschek, San Diego Union-Tribune, "Santee: Drive-in, sprayground and more make for family-friendly suburb," 30 June 2019 The museum’s internal investigation found that guards went on and off break, occasionally overlapping, which might explain why students felt followed. Emily Sweeney, BostonGlobe.com, "‘I was black, I was nobody, and I worked for security’: Guards at the MFA speak out," 29 June 2019 This may explain in part why some people have out-of-body experiences. NBC News, "Can science explain what people see and feel during a near-death experience?," 29 June 2019 That might explain why France has been able to beat the U.S. outside major tournaments but never in one, a streak that continued on Friday. Grant Wahl, SI.com, "Megan Rapinoe's Pride Shines Through as She Embraces Her Biggest Challenges," 28 June 2019 As a former Denver schools superintendent, Sen. Michael F. Bennet might have explained that if he had been given that opportunity. Steven Pearlstein, Washington Post, "In the Democratic debates, candidates spouted too many economic fairy tales," 28 June 2019 Their success predates, and may even explain, their enactment of socialized medicine. William A. Estes, National Review, "The American Medical Association Flirts with Socialized Medicine," 28 June 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

4 Jul 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

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