explain


explain
explain 1 Explain, expound, explicate, elucidate, interpret, construe are comparable when they mean to make oneself or another understand the meaning of something.
Explain, the most general term, implies a making of something plain or intelligible to someone by whom it was previously not known or clearly understood
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explain to a boy the mechanism of an engine

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the teacher explained the meanings of the new words in the poem

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a poet whose words intimate rather than define, suggest rather than . . . explainEdman

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Expound implies careful, elaborate, often learned setting forth of a subject in order to explain it (as in a lecture, a book, or a treatise)
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a clergyman expounding a biblical text

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expound a point of law

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Sir A. Eddington in two masterly chapters . . . expounds the law of gravitation— Alexander

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expound the duties of the citizen

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Explicate, a somewhat learned term, adds to expound the idea of development or detailed analysis
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the mind of a doctor of the Church who could . . . explicate the meaning of a dogma— T. S. Eliot

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Elucidate implies a throwing light upon something obscure (as a subject, a work, or a passage) especially by clear or luminous exposition or illustration
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elucidate an obscure passage in the text

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the simplicity of the case can be addled . . . when the object is to addle and not to elucidateShaw

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the author's linguistic erudition has allowed him to consult the original sources and to elucidate and interpret them authentically— Reinhardt

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Interpret im-plies the making clear to oneself or to another the meaning of something (as a poem, a dream, an abstraction, or a work in a foreign language) which presents more than intellectual difficulties and requires special knowledge, imagination, or sympathy in the person who would understand it or make it understood
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I have tried in this all too hasty sketch to interpret . . . the indwelling spirit and ideal of the art of the Far East— Binyon

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it is a sophistry to interpret experience in terms of illusion— Sullivan

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an inscription which no one could understand or rightly interpretHudson

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Construe is preferred to interpret when the difficulties are textual either because of the strangeness of the language (as by being foreign, ancient, dialectal, or technical) or because of ambiguities or equivocations in it. It therefore may suggest either translation involving careful analysis of grammatical structure
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1construe ten lines of Vergil

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or a highly individual or particular interpretation
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the phrase "every common carrier engaged in trade or commerce" may be construed to mean "while engaged in trade or commerce" without violence to the habits of English speech— Justice Holmes

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had construed the ordinarily polite terms of his letter of engagement into a belief that the Directors had chosen him on account of his special and brilliant talents— Kipling

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Analogous words: *analyze, resolve, dissect, break down: *discuss, argue, dispute: *exemplify, illustrate
2 Explain, account, justify, rationalize are comparable when they mean to give or tell the cause, reason, nature, or significance of something obscure or questionable.
One explains what is hard to understand because it is mysterious in its origin or nature or lacks an apparent or sufficient cause or is full of inconsistencies
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these sciences have not succeeded in explaining the phenomena of life— Inge

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this . . . study of Napoleon, which, while free from all desire to defend or admire, yet seems to explain Napoleon— Ellis

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Explain often implies an attempt to excuse or to set oneself right with others
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one can do almost anything ... if one does not attempt to explain it— Wharton

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One accounts for something, rather than explains it, when one shows how it fits into a natural order or a logically consistent pattern
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we fail, we are told, to account for the world. Well, the world is a solid fact, which we have to accept, not to account for— Inge

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going about her business as if nothing had happened that needed to be accounted for— Wharton

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their presence could not be accounted for by some temporary catastrophe, such as the Mosaic Flood— S. F. Mason

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One justifies himself or another when he explains certain acts or behavior in an attempt to free himself or another from blame. It may or may not imply consciousness of guilt or a definite accusation
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Powell . . . began to justify himself. "I couldn't stop him," he whispered shakily. "He was too quick for me"— Conrad

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so far is he from feeling the pangs of conscience that he constantly justi-fies his act— Dickinson

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in her heart she did not at all justify or excuse Cyril— Bennett

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One rationalizes something that is or seems to be contrary to reason when he attempts an explanation that is in accord with scientific principles or with reality as known to the senses
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rationalize the Greek myths

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rationalize the Genesis story of creation

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Rationalize may come close to justify without, however, so strong an implication of blame and with the added implication of self-deception and, at times, of hypocrisy
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in other countries the plutocracy has often produced men of reflective and analytical habit, eager to rationalize its instincts— Mencken

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easy for men of principle to rationalize lapses from high standards where the cause seems to them good— Pimlott

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Analogous words: *excuse, condone: *exculpate, exonerate, acquit, absolve

New Dictionary of Synonyms. 2014.

Synonyms:

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Explain — Ex*plain ([e^]ks*pl[=a]n ), v. t. [imp. & p. p. {Explained}([e^]ks*pl[=a]nd ); p. pr. & vb. n. {Explaining}.] [L. explandare to flatten, spread out, explain; ex out + plandare to make level or plain, planus plain: cf. OF. esplaner, explaner. See… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • explain — [ek splān′, iksplān′] vt. [ME explanen < L explanare, to flatten < ex , out + planare, to make level < planus, level (see PLANE2): sp. infl. by PLAIN1] 1. to make clear, plain, or understandable 2. to give the meaning or interpretation… …   English World dictionary

  • explain — (v.) early 15c., from L. explanare to make level, smooth out; also to explain, make clear (see EXPLANATION (Cf. explanation)). Originally explane, spelling altered by influence of plain. In 17c., occasionally used more literally, of the unfolding …   Etymology dictionary

  • explain — ► VERB 1) make clear by giving a detailed description. 2) give a reason or justification for. 3) (explain oneself) excuse or justify one s motives or conduct. 4) (explain away) minimize the significance of (something awkward) by giving an excuse… …   English terms dictionary

  • Explain — Ex*plain , v. i. To give an explanation. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • explain — I verb account for, annotate, assign a meaning to, cause to be understood, clarify, clear of obscurity, clear up, decipher, define, demonstrate, describe, disentangle, elucidate, enlighten, enucleate, exemplify, expedire, explanare, explicate,… …   Law dictionary

  • explain — [v] make clear; give a reason for account for, analyze, annotate, break down, bring out, clarify, clear up, construe, decipher, define, demonstrate, describe, diagram, disclose, elucidate, excuse, explicate, expound, get across*, go into detail,… …   New thesaurus

  • explain — ex|plain W1S1 [ıkˈspleın] v [I and T] [Date: 1500 1600; : Latin; Origin: explanare to make level, unfold , from planus level, flat ] 1.) to tell someone about something in a way that is clear or easy to understand ▪ Our lawyer carefully explained …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • explain — ex|plain [ ık spleın ] verb *** 1. ) transitive to tell someone something in a way that helps them understand it better: My full name is Juliet Avery, Juliet explained patiently. explain something to someone: The doctor explained the risks to me… …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • explain */*/*/ — UK [ɪkˈspleɪn] / US verb Word forms explain : present tense I/you/we/they explain he/she/it explains present participle explaining past tense explained past participle explained 1) a) [transitive] to tell someone something in a way that helps… …   English dictionary


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