v. ex·plained, ex·plain·ing, ex·plains
1. To make plain or comprehensible.
2. To define; expound: We explained our plan to the committee.
a. To offer reasons for or a cause of; justify: explain an error.
b. To offer reasons for the actions, beliefs, or remarks of (oneself).
To make something plain or comprehensible: Let me explain.
To dismiss or minimize the significance of (something) by means of an explanation or excuse: There is no way to explain away my carelessness.
[Middle English explanen, from Latin explānāre : ex-, intensive pref.; see EX- + plānus, clear; see pelə-2 in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]
Synonyms: explain, elucidate, explicate, interpret, construe
These verbs mean to make the nature or meaning of something understandable. Explain is the most widely applicable: The professor used a diagram to explain the theory of continental drift. The manual explained how the new software worked. To elucidate is to throw light on something complex: "Man's whole life and environment have been laid open and elucidated" (Thomas Carlyle).
Explicate implies detailed and usually learned and lengthy exploration or analysis: "Ordinary language philosophers tried to explicate the standards of usage" (Jerrold J. Katz).
To interpret is to reveal the underlying meaning of something by the application of special knowledge or insight: "A radiologist can interpret images made in Saudi Arabia and beamed to Boston, sending back a diagnosis within hours" (Richard Saltus).
Construe involves putting a particular construction or interpretation on something: "I take the official oath today ... with no purpose to construe the Constitution or laws by any hypercritical rules" (Abraham Lincoln).
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.