Definition of explain in English:

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Pronunciation: /ɪkˈspleɪn/
Pronunciation: /ɛkˈspleɪn/


[reporting verb]
1Make (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
More example sentences
  • Her mother has written to him explaining the situation but has not heard back.
  • Call the company, explain the situation and give an estimate of the time you will arrive.
  • My wife will then have to explain the situation to another helpful city employee.
describe, give an explanation of, make clear/plain/intelligible, spell out, put into words, express in words;
clarify, unfold, throw light on, clear up, simplify;
demonstrate, show, teach, illustrate;
informal get across, get over
1.1Give 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
More example sentences
  • 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?
  • Here supporters of the Socialist Party have to be honest in explaining the recent defeat.
account for, give an explanation for, give a reason for;
justify, give a justification for, give an excuse/alibi/apologia for, make excuses for, explain away, rationalize, give a rationale for;
defend, vindicate, legitimize, mitigate
rare extenuate
1.2 [with 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
More example sentences
  • 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).
  • Thirdly, he submitted that Mr Perry invited the jury to reason that Robert Kerr's psychiatric condition explained his alleged conduct.
1.3 (explain 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
More example sentences
  • There is no way of explaining it away or justifying it.
  • 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.


explain oneself

Expand on what one has said in order to make oneself clear.
Example sentences
  • Many of them had a hard time developing clear arguments, explaining themselves fully, and understanding their own situation.
  • It had no caption or explanation following it, yet the pictures were not clear enough to explain themselves.
  • 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.
1.1Excuse or justify one’s motives or conduct: he was too panicked to stay and explain himself to the policeman
More example sentences
  • 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.
  • If the Prime Minister refused to explain himself over the war, his conduct would be judged at the ballot box, he added.



Pronunciation: /ɪkˈspleɪnəb(ə)l/
Pronunciation: /ɛkˈspleɪnəb(ə)l/
Example sentences
  • The implication of this claim is that since the ‘golden rule’ is a universally held belief, it must be explainable by purely naturalistic processes.
  • When I don't understand a magic trick I set out to reveal its explanation because it doesn't fit my theory of the universe as a logical and explainable place.
  • For no explainable reason, a good deal of the original music has been either altered or removed altogether.


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

  • The words explain and explanation both date from late Middle English and their source is Latin explanare, based on planus ‘plain’. Early senses included ‘smooth out’ and ‘spread out flat’. In the early 16th century it came to mean ‘give details of (a matter)’, and later ‘make intelligible by clarification’.

Words that rhyme with explain

abstain, appertain, arcane, arraign, ascertain, attain, Bahrain, bane, blain, brain, Braine, Cain, Caine, campaign, cane, cinquain, chain, champagne, champaign, Champlain, Charmaine, chicane, chow mein, cocaine, Coleraine, Coltrane, complain, constrain, contain, crane, Dane, deign, demesne, demi-mondaine, detain, disdain, domain, domaine, drain, Duane, Dwane, Elaine, entertain, entrain, fain, fane, feign, gain, Germaine, germane, grain, humane, Hussein, inane, Jain, Jane, Jermaine, Kane, La Fontaine, lain, lane, legerdemain, Lorraine, main, Maine, maintain, mane, mise en scène, Montaigne, moraine, mundane, obtain, ordain, Paine, pane, pertain, plain, plane, Port-of-Spain, profane, rain, Raine, refrain, reign, rein, retain, romaine, sane, Seine, Shane, Sinn Fein, skein, slain, Spain, Spillane, sprain, stain, strain, sustain, swain, terrain, thane, train, twain, Ujjain, Ukraine, underlain, urbane, vain, vane, vein, Verlaine, vicereine, wain, wane, Wayne

For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: ex|plain

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