verb (used with object)
- to make plain or clear; render understandable or intelligible: to explain an obscure point.
- to make known in detail: to explain how to do something.
- to assign a meaning to; interpret: How can you explain such a silly remark?
- to make clear the cause or reason of; account for: I cannot explain his strange behavior.
verb (used without object)
- to give an explanation.
- explain away,
- to diminish or nullify the significance of by explanation: He couldn’t explain away his absence from home at the time the robbery was committed.
- to dispel (doubts, difficulties, etc.) by explanation: She explained away the child’s fears.
- (when tr, may take a clause as object) to make (something) comprehensible, esp by giving a clear and detailed account of the relevant structure, operation, surrounding circumstances, etc
- (tr) to justify or attempt to justify (oneself) by giving reasons for one’s actions or words
early 15c., from Latin explanare “to make level, smooth out;” also “to explain, make clear” (see explanation).
Originally explane, spelling altered by influence of plain. Also see plane (v.2). In 17c., occasionally used more literally, of the unfolding of material things: Evelyn has buds that “explain into leaves” [“Sylva, or, A discourse of forest-trees, and the propagation of timber in His Majesties dominions,” 1664]. Related: Explained; explaining; explains.