Definition of explain in English:



  • 1reporting verb Make (an idea or situation) clear to someone by describing it in more detail or revealing relevant facts.

    with clause ‘they explained that their lives centred on the religious rituals’
    with direct speech ‘‘It's a device of great age,’ the professor explained’
    with object ‘he explained the situation’
    • ‘It explains in detail why he came to Scotland and how the factory was born.’
    • ‘Call the company, explain the situation and give an estimate of the time you will arrive.’
    • ‘All the agencies have Chinese signs explaining the concept of the minimum wage law.’
    • ‘In fact, explains Greene, the best way to seduce someone is to fall in love with them.’
    • ‘Pete goes on to explain in detail exactly how to achieve all this for consistent accuracy.’
    • ‘I kind of lost my taste for the science fiction show when they started explaining everything.’
    • ‘They are to send a joint letter to all schools and colleges this week explaining the situation.’
    • ‘As the feature on this page explains, this idea is a runner, if not an odds-on certainty.’
    • ‘Also, I find explaining and describing things helps get my thoughts in order.’
    • ‘After explaining his legal position, we asked her the reason for detention.’
    • ‘Mr Blake said he was handing out 3,000 manifesto leaflets explaining his policies.’
    • ‘Helpfully, a letter turned up this morning explaining the entire process to me.’
    • ‘My wife will then have to explain the situation to another helpful city employee.’
    • ‘One might expect that Marx would go on to explain in some detail what communism would be like.’
    • ‘She explained she had no idea how the tree got into her brother's garden.’
    • ‘This goes some way to explaining the idea that works of art have to do with truth.’
    • ‘We have not been explaining the facts to teachers, our customers and the customers of the future.’
    • ‘Her mother has written to him explaining the situation but has not heard back.’
    • ‘He liked to do mathematics on his feet, often prancing while he explained his thoughts.’
    • ‘I explained this idea to the people I met this week, and most said they would be keen.’
    describe, give an explanation of, make clear, make intelligible, make plain, spell out, put into words, express in words
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    1. 1.1 Give a reason so as to justify or excuse (an action or event)
      with object ‘Cassie found it necessary to explain her blackened eye’
      with clause ‘he makes athletes explain why they made a mistake’
      no object ‘I explained about Maureen calling round’
      • ‘Here supporters of the Socialist Party have to be honest in explaining the recent defeat.’
      • ‘Cole grinned and went on to explain about the different types of magic users that there were.’
      • ‘I was writing a note to Pip's Mum to explain about our disappearance and put it on her desk.’
      • ‘He should be explaining his reasons for his decision in the House of Assembly today.’
      • ‘So to explain these events it is necessary to examine the entire geological record.’
      • ‘The bus was on time and its route correct, so how do we explain this unnecessary event?’
      • ‘Quite why it took so long for the village to mark this achievement isn't explained on the plaque.’
      • ‘What explains this curious death of an idea once favoured by the men at the top of their two parties?’
      • ‘Already Labour is explaining the defeat as purely a consequence of the low turn-out.’
      • ‘Thus it does not seem possible to explain the price increase in terms of demand factors.’
      • ‘In our family, we have always sat down and talked and tried to explain why you need to vote.’
      • ‘In an exclusive interview with company chairman, he explains his reasons for the switch.’
      • ‘His curious logic in explaining his reasons for this is beyond my wit I am afraid.’
      • ‘A real comparison on an equal level would go a long way in explaining this crisis.’
      • ‘If only he had been injured it might have explained his appalling performance.’
      • ‘It involves setting up a website describing yourself and explaining why you need money.’
      • ‘The advent of this seemingly blessed type can partly be explained by the modern economy.’
      • ‘One of the reasons I am drawn towards this theory is because it explains many of the injustices of life.’
      • ‘In his autobiography, he explains in detail why it did not become a worldwide business.’
      • ‘Another reason to explain the popularity of the leather look is its affordability.’
      account for, give an explanation for, give a reason for
      View synonyms
    2. 1.2with object Be the cause of or motivating factor for.
      ‘her father's violence explains her pacifism’
      with clause ‘this would explain why so many adult children still live with their parents’
      • ‘Their adventurous and inquisitive nature explains their fascination with the ancient beauty and splendor of Egypt.’
      • ‘He was also English, which explained his sometimes weird language, my favourite word being "gads".’
      • ‘His preoccupation with solitude also explains why Tsai's films are often very nearly free of dialogue.’
      • ‘His mother's heritage more than explained his strength and agility.’
      • ‘Thirdly, he submitted that Mr Perry invited the jury to reason that Robert Kerr's psychiatric condition explained his alleged conduct.’
      • ‘He had studied at Oxford and was a Rhodes Scholar, which explained why he spoke such beautiful English.’
      • ‘Abe also admitted that many professional players complained about the course's difficulty which explained why there were no golfers managing to score under par.’
      • ‘What explains this astonishing mobilisation of voter emotion, particularly in affluent white suburbs?’
      • ‘This explains their preference for politicians who want to cut taxes (even though this means fewer public services).’
    3. 1.3explain something away Minimize the significance of an embarrassing fact or action by giving an excuse or justification.
      ‘they know stories about me that I can't explain away’
      • ‘Remember this wily character is going to be good at hiding the problems, great at explaining them away if you point them out, and a genius at demonstrating why it is in fact your fault!’
      • ‘Had she challenged the official on each lie, he could have explained them away.’
      • ‘Abstractness and generality, however, also allow a wide berth of hedging since any contradictions or challenges can be explained away as exceptions.’
      • ‘For those who know him, his ingrained indecisiveness serves as a signature to his every act; and to the uninitiated, it is explained away as cautiousness and age-inspired prudence.’
      • ‘Recent weather phenomena can be explained away as cyclical, or as manifestations of climate change.’
      • ‘It only has to fit a basic description, and even some plainly wrong things can be explained away as Deja Vu or other such weird mind tricks.’
      • ‘In the wider scenario, a lot of the apparent financial imbalance in the statistics will be explained away by the inequity between men's and women's salaries.’
      • ‘The lawyer explained the fact away with a sentimental appeal to basic recording industry generosity and kindness.’
      • ‘I have to believe Mom had her suspicions, even though I explained it away by saying I'd backed into the stuff while changing into my bathing suit.’
      • ‘The size of the demonstration could be explained away by the fact that most of the major political parties, from left to right, have come out in opposition to the war.’
      • ‘He humbly explained it away as being his first gig as an accompanist and that he didn't really know what he was doing.’
      • ‘He must have explained it away somehow, because soon enough, her arm was back in his.’
      • ‘They should not minimize, rationalize, or explain the bullying away.’
      • ‘Yet in his speech tomorrow he will defend his judgment rather than seek to explain it away as a temporary lapse which was never intended to be aired in public.’
      • ‘However most of these positive correlations were explained away by the fact that people of higher socioeconomic status are in general more likely users of print media.’
      • ‘So if the facts don't suit there is always a theory to explain them away!’
      • ‘Some of that shortfall can be explained away by a booming economy, growing employment and a falling social security burden.’
      • ‘I eventually explained it away as ‘witchcraft’ because it was all too baffling for her.’
      • ‘He later explained this position away by saying that he did not endorse vigilante action against the author, but would rather want the verdict to be carried out by a proper court.’
      • ‘There is no way of explaining it away or justifying it.’


  • explain oneself

    • 1Expand on what one has said in order to make oneself clear.

      • ‘We give our clients cards detailing their condition so that if they have trouble explaining themselves, they can then show that person the card and hopefully they will be a little more considerate.’
      • ‘It is clear that despite our best endeavours to explain ourselves, a number of people think that the bank tightened monetary policy to cool down the property market.’
      • ‘Many of them had a hard time developing clear arguments, explaining themselves fully, and understanding their own situation.’
      • ‘When it was clear that the patient could explain himself perfectly well, the doctor asked the relative to wait outside in the corridor.’
      • ‘It had no caption or explanation following it, yet the pictures were not clear enough to explain themselves.’
      • ‘It's so hard to get out everything I want to say and to be clear and have the time to explain myself, and to create a kind of intimacy with an audience.’
      • ‘Her appeal had been upheld on the basis that a judge had failed to use clear enough language to explain himself.’
      • ‘He jumped from one subject to another without explaining himself but he was perfectly clear… eventually.’
      • ‘I didn't explain myself very well in one paragraph, so I expanded on what I meant.’
      • ‘I have a lot more detailed information to this case but I would need to speak to someone person to person and have time to explain myself more clearly.’
      1. 1.1Excuse or justify one's motives or conduct.
        ‘he was too panicked to stay and explain himself to the policeman’
        • ‘If I explain myself to clear these rumors, my life will never be normal again.’
        • ‘Workers should be given an opportunity to explain themselves at a properly conducted meeting before decisions are made.’
        • ‘If the Prime Minister refused to explain himself over the war, his conduct would be judged at the ballot box, he added.’
        • ‘He is barely embarrassed - he explains himself without being defensive.’
        • ‘There are several reasons why it is necessary for an appellate court to ensure that the lawyer whose conduct is challenged has an opportunity to explain himself.’
        • ‘Youths can lay out the motives behind their choices and actions and explain themselves - if not to the people of this world, then to the ‘higher powers’ of gods and spirits.’
        • ‘If you think it is justified, how will you explain yourself to those whose rights are being curtailed?’
        • ‘I don't feel all that bad about the hours they spend explaining themselves to the police.’
        • ‘My students feel they want to explain themselves and justify their ordinariness.’
        • ‘She wanted to explain herself, to clear her name.’


Late Middle English: from Latin explanare, based on planus ‘plain’.