Definition of explain in English:



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

    [with clause] ‘they explained that their lives centered on the religious rituals’
    [with direct speech] ‘“my daddy has spells,” Ben explained’
    [with object] ‘he explained the situation’
    • ‘It explains in detail why he came to Scotland and how the factory was born.’
    • ‘This goes some way to explaining the idea that works of art have to do with truth.’
    • ‘As the feature on this page explains, this idea is a runner, if not an odds-on certainty.’
    • ‘One might expect that Marx would go on to explain in some detail what communism would be like.’
    • ‘I kind of lost my taste for the science fiction show when they started explaining everything.’
    • ‘Pete goes on to explain in detail exactly how to achieve all this for consistent accuracy.’
    • ‘We have not been explaining the facts to teachers, our customers and the customers of the future.’
    • ‘They are to send a joint letter to all schools and colleges this week explaining the situation.’
    • ‘After explaining his legal position, we asked her the reason for detention.’
    • ‘My wife will then have to explain the situation to another helpful city employee.’
    • ‘I explained this idea to the people I met this week, and most said they would be keen.’
    • ‘All the agencies have Chinese signs explaining the concept of the minimum wage law.’
    • ‘Helpfully, a letter turned up this morning explaining the entire process to me.’
    • ‘In fact, explains Greene, the best way to seduce someone is to fall in love with them.’
    • ‘Mr Blake said he was handing out 3,000 manifesto leaflets explaining his policies.’
    • ‘Call the company, explain the situation and give an estimate of the time you will arrive.’
    • ‘She explained she had no idea how the tree got into her brother's garden.’
    • ‘Her mother has written to him explaining the situation but has not heard back.’
    • ‘Also, I find explaining and describing things helps get my thoughts in order.’
    • ‘He liked to do mathematics on his feet, often prancing while he explained his thoughts.’
    describe, give an explanation of, make clear, make intelligible, make plain, spell out, put into words, express in words
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    1. 1.1Account for (an action or event) by giving a reason as excuse or justification.
      [with object] ‘Callie found it necessary to explain her blackened eye’
      [with clause] ‘he makes athletes explain why they made a mistake’
      [no object] ‘she had tried to explain about Adam, hadn't she?’
      • ‘Thus it does not seem possible to explain the price increase in terms of demand factors.’
      • ‘A real comparison on an equal level would go a long way in explaining this crisis.’
      • ‘Cole grinned and went on to explain about the different types of magic users that there were.’
      • ‘It involves setting up a website describing yourself and explaining why you need money.’
      • ‘Already Labour is explaining the defeat as purely a consequence of the low turn-out.’
      • ‘The bus was on time and its route correct, so how do we explain this unnecessary event?’
      • ‘His curious logic in explaining his reasons for this is beyond my wit I am afraid.’
      • ‘In an exclusive interview with company chairman, he explains his reasons for the switch.’
      • ‘I was writing a note to Pip's Mum to explain about our disappearance and put it on her desk.’
      • ‘In his autobiography, he explains in detail why it did not become a worldwide business.’
      • ‘Quite why it took so long for the village to mark this achievement isn't explained on the plaque.’
      • ‘So to explain these events it is necessary to examine the entire geological record.’
      • ‘One of the reasons I am drawn towards this theory is because it explains many of the injustices of life.’
      • ‘In our family, we have always sat down and talked and tried to explain why you need to vote.’
      • ‘What explains this curious death of an idea once favoured by the men at the top of their two parties?’
      • ‘The advent of this seemingly blessed type can partly be explained by the modern economy.’
      • ‘Here supporters of the Socialist Party have to be honest in explaining the recent defeat.’
      • ‘Another reason to explain the popularity of the leather look is its affordability.’
      • ‘He should be explaining his reasons for his decision in the House of Assembly today.’
      • ‘If only he had been injured it might have explained his appalling performance.’
    2. 1.2[with object]Be the cause of or motivating factor for.
      ‘her father's violence explains her pacificism’
      [with clause] ‘this would explain why so many adult children still live with their parents’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘He had studied at Oxford and was a Rhodes Scholar, which explained why he spoke such beautiful English.’
      • ‘Their adventurous and inquisitive nature explains their fascination with the ancient beauty and splendor of Egypt.’
      • ‘This explains their preference for politicians who want to cut taxes (even though this means fewer public services).’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘What explains this astonishing mobilisation of voter emotion, particularly in affluent white suburbs?’
    3. 1.3Minimize 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!’
      • ‘There is no way of explaining it away or justifying it.’
      • ‘He must have explained it away somehow, because soon enough, her arm was back in his.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘The lawyer explained the fact away with a sentimental appeal to basic recording industry generosity and kindness.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘I eventually explained it away as ‘witchcraft’ because it was all too baffling for her.’
      • ‘Abstractness and generality, however, also allow a wide berth of hedging since any contradictions or challenges can be explained away as exceptions.’
      • ‘They should not minimize, rationalize, or explain the bullying away.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘Recent weather phenomena can be explained away as cyclical, or as manifestations of climate change.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘Some of that shortfall can be explained away by a booming economy, growing employment and a falling social security burden.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘Had she challenged the official on each lie, he could have explained them away.’
      • ‘So if the facts don't suit there is always a theory to explain them away!’
      • ‘He humbly explained it away as being his first gig as an accompanist and that he didn't really know what he was doing.’
      • ‘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.’


  • explain oneself

    • 1Expand on what one has said in order to make one's meaning clear.

      • ‘He jumped from one subject to another without explaining himself but he was perfectly clear… eventually.’
      • ‘Her appeal had been upheld on the basis that a judge had failed to use clear enough language to explain himself.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘When it was clear that the patient could explain himself perfectly well, the doctor asked the relative to wait outside in the corridor.’
      • ‘Many of them had a hard time developing clear arguments, explaining themselves fully, and understanding their own situation.’
      • ‘I didn't explain myself very well in one paragraph, so I expanded on what I meant.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘It had no caption or explanation following it, yet the pictures were not clear enough to explain themselves.’
      1. 1.1Give an account of one's motives or conduct in order to excuse or justify oneself.
        ‘he was too panicked to stay and explain himself to the policeman’
        • ‘She wanted to explain herself, to clear her name.’
        • ‘If you think it is justified, how will you explain yourself to those whose rights are being curtailed?’
        • ‘My students feel they want to explain themselves and justify their ordinariness.’
        • ‘Workers should be given an opportunity to explain themselves at a properly conducted meeting before decisions are made.’
        • ‘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.’
        • ‘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.’
        • ‘I don't feel all that bad about the hours they spend explaining themselves to the police.’
        • ‘If the Prime Minister refused to explain himself over the war, his conduct would be judged at the ballot box, he added.’
        • ‘If I explain myself to clear these rumors, my life will never be normal again.’


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