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Middle English explanen, from Old French explaner, from Latin explanō (I flatten, spread out, make plain or clear, explain), from ex- (out) + planō (I 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).



explain (third-person singular simple present explains, present participle explaining, simple past and past participle explained)

  1. To make plain, manifest, or intelligible; to clear of obscurity; to illustrate the meaning of.
    To explain a chapter of the Bible.
    • 1909, Archibald Marshall, The Squire's Daughter, chapterI:
      The boy became volubly friendly and bubbling over with unexpected humour and high spirits. He tried to persuade Cicely to stay away from the ball-room for a fourth dance. Nobody would miss them, he explained.
    • 2012 March 1, Brian Hayes, “Pixels or Perish”, in American Scientist, volume 100, number 2, page 106:
      Drawings and pictures are more than mere ornaments in scientific discourse. Blackboard sketches, geological maps, diagrams of molecular structure, astronomical photographs, MRI images, the many varieties of statistical charts and graphs: These pictorial devices are indispensable tools for presenting evidence, for explaining a theory, for telling a story.
  2. To give a valid excuse for some past behavior.
    • 2013 June 7, David Simpson, “Fantasy of navigation”, in The Guardian Weekly, volume 188, number 26, page 36:
      It is tempting to speculate about the incentives or compulsions that might explain why anyone would take to the skies in [the] basket [of a balloon]: perhaps out of a desire to escape the gravity of this world or to get a preview of the next; […].
  3. (obsolete) To make flat, smooth out.
  4. (obsolete) To unfold or make visible.
    • John Evelyn (1620-1706)
      The horse-chestnut is [] ready to explain its leaf.


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