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

Keep scrolling for more

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.
See More
Recent Examples on the Web Our work makes clear that the evolutionary origins of oaks shape the complex ecological interactions that help to explain why the trees are so abundant and diverse in North America. Andrew L. Hipp, Scientific American, "How Oak Trees Evolved to Rule the Forests of the Northern Hemisphere," 15 July 2020 All of which might help explain why voters’ confidence in the integrity of U.S. elections is shaky at best. Sue Halpern, The New Yorker, "Can Our Ballots Be Both Secret and Secure?," 7 July 2020 These four reasons from experts in human behavior can help explain it. Claire Gillespie, Health.com, "Why Do Some People Refuse to Wear a Face Mask in Public?," 1 July 2020 But the last twenty years of work by social psychologists has yielded insights that might help explain why police are quicker to use deadly force in an encounter with a Black person. David A. Harris, Fortune, "Why police violence against Black people persists—and what can be done about it," 30 June 2020 An understanding of how race shaped the United States can help to explain its disproportionate influence on African Americans (over a quarter of total deaths). C. Brandon Ogbunu, Wired, "The Pandemic and the Protests Are Mirror Images," 10 June 2020 Sessions said Tuberville should more fully explain his role. Mike Cason | Mcason@al.com, al, "Tommy Tuberville goes low profile to run out clock in runoff with Jeff Sessions," 10 July 2020 For now, Covid-19’s differential impact on men and women remains difficult to explain and resolve. Grace Huckins, Wired, "Covid Kills More Men Than Women. Experts Still Can’t Explain Why," 9 July 2020 But moves to throw open the doors with the virus still raging help explain recent surges in these states, epidemiologists say. Anchorage Daily News, "Some states that raced to reopen let businesses write their own rules, documents show," 9 July 2020

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

Time Traveler for explain

Time Traveler

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

See more words from the same century

Statistics for explain

Last Updated

25 Jul 2020

Cite this Entry

“Explain.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/explain. Accessed 3 Aug. 2020.

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for explain


How to pronounce explain (audio)

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.

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).


Test Your Vocabulary

July 2020 Words of the Day Quiz

  • papercraft sunset
  • Which is a synonym of mien?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Bee Cubed

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!