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

transitive verb

: to make known
explain the secret of your success
: to make plain or understandable
footnotes that explain the terms
: to give the reason for or cause of
unable to explain his strange conduct
: 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
explainable adjective
explain oneself
: to clarify one's statements or the reasons for one's conduct
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.
Recent Examples on the Web Italy’s Dangerous Budget Showdown With Europe Erik Jones explains the showdown between Italy and the EU over the Italian budget and its impact on the debt load. Gianni Riotta, Foreign Affairs, 10 June 2024 Newman explains how this was the moment the creators had been building toward. Yolanda MacHado, EW.com, 10 June 2024 Kids have clearly always been on the couple’s mind, with Peltz-Beckham also explaining that the reason for combining their last names was the thought of their future children. Emma Aerin Becker, Peoplemag, 10 June 2024 Teller had previously stayed in the villa, even photographing a 2019 campaign for YSL there (also with a focus on legs, albeit in sheer hosiery), and the owners enthusiastically gave them free rein as staff prepared to close for the off-season, the photographer explained. Jacqui Palumbo, CNN, 10 June 2024 See all Example Sentences for explain 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'explain.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


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

First Known Use

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

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

Dictionary Entries Near explain

Cite this Entry

“Explain.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/explain. Accessed 19 Jun. 2024.

Kids Definition


ex·​plain ik-ˈsplān How to pronounce explain (audio)
: to make plain or understandable
: to give the reason for or cause of
explainable adjective
explainer noun

More from Merriam-Webster on explain

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