from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • transitive v. To make plain or comprehensible.
  • transitive v. To define; expound: We explained our plan to the committee.
  • transitive v. To offer reasons for or a cause of; justify: explain an error.
  • transitive v. To offer reasons for the actions, beliefs, or remarks of (oneself).
  • intransitive v. To make something plain or comprehensible: Let me explain.
  • explain away To dismiss or get rid of by or as if by explaining.
  • explain away To minimize by explanation.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • v. To give a sufficiently detailed report about (a) the reason for something, about why something happened, about a causal chain of events; about (b) how something works, about how elements in a system interact; about (c) how to do something, about the steps which need to be accomplished in order to accomplish a certain goal.
  • v. To give a valid excuse for some past behavior.
  • v. To make flat, smooth out.
  • v. To unfold or make visible.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • intransitive v. To give an explanation.
  • transitive v. To flatten; to spread out; to unfold; to expand.
  • transitive v. To make plain, manifest, or intelligible; to clear of obscurity; to expound; to unfold and illustrate the meaning of.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • To make plain or flat; spread out in a flattened form; unfold.
  • To make plain or clear to the mind; render intelligible; unfold, analyze, state, or describe in such a manner as to make evident to the minds of others; exhibit the nature, meaning, or significance of; interpret; elucidate; expound.
  • To exhibit, disclose, or state the grounds or causes of the existence or occurrence of; reveal or state the causal or logical antecedents or conditions of; account for.
  • Synonyms Explain, Expound, Interpret, Elucidate. Explain is the most general of these words, and means to make plain, clear, and intelligible. Expound is used of elaborate, formal, or methodical explanation: as, to expound a text, the law, the philosophy of Aristotle. To interpret is to explain, as if from a foreign language, to make clear what before was dark, and generally by following the original closely, as word by word and line by line: as, to interpret Hegel, Swedenborg, Emerson. To elucidate is to bring or work out into the light that which before was dark, usually by means of illustration; the word generally implies, like expound, a somewhat protracted or elaborate process. See translate.
  • To give explanations.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • v. serve as a reason or cause or justification of
  • v. make plain and comprehensible
  • v. define


Middle English explanen, from Latin explānāre : ex-, intensive pref.; see ex- + plānus, clear; see pelə-2 in Indo-European roots.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
Middle English explanen, from Old French explaner, from Latin explanāre ("to flatten, to spread out, make plain or clear, explain"), from ex- ("out") + planāre ("to flatten, make level"), from planus ("level, plain"); see plain and plane. Compare esplanade, splanade. Displaced native Middle English arecchen, irecchen ("to explain, expound") (from Old English āreccan, ġereccan). (Wiktionary)


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