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.

Verb Phrases

explain away,
  1. 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.
  2. to dispel (doubts, difficulties, etc.) by explanation: She explained away the child's fears.

Origin of explain

1375–1425; late Middle English explanen < Latin explānāre to smooth out, make intelligible, spread out on flat surface. See ex-1, plane1
Related formsex·plain·a·ble, adjectiveex·plain·er, ex·pla·na·tor [ek-spluh-ney-ter] /ˈɛk spləˌneɪ tər/, nounmis·ex·plained, adjectivenon·ex·plain·a·ble, adjectiveo·ver·ex·plain, verbpre·ex·plain, verbre·ex·plain, verb (used with object)un·ex·plain·a·ble, adjectiveun·ex·plain·a·bly, adverbun·ex·plained, adjectiveun·ex·plain·ing, adjectivewell-ex·plained, adjective

Synonym study

1. Explain, elucidate, expound, interpret imply making the meaning of something clear or understandable. To explain is to make plain, clear, or intelligible something that is not known or understood: to explain a theory or a problem. To elucidate is to throw light on what before was dark and obscure, usually by illustration and commentary and sometimes by elaborate explanation: They asked him to elucidate his statement. To expound is to give a methodical, detailed, scholarly explanation of something, usually Scriptures, doctrines, or philosophy: to expound the doctrine of free will. To interpret is to give the meaning of something by paraphrase, by translation, or by an explanation based on personal opinion: to interpret a poem or a symbol.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for unexplainable

Contemporary Examples of unexplainable

  • Weiss, who had been in the firehouse consoling families throughout the day, said he struggled to explain the unexplainable.

    The Daily Beast logo
    Sandy Hook, Connecticut: A Small Town Devastated

    Eliza Shapiro, Matthew Zeitlin

    December 15, 2012

  • The series regulars sang original songs in her imagination, but did not actually break into any unexplainable dance routines.

    The Daily Beast logo
    11 Legendary Musical TV Episodes

    The Daily Beast

    April 1, 2011

  • “There is something about the DNA of Israeli innovation that is unexplainable,” Shainberg said.

    The Daily Beast logo
    Marching Through the Meltdown

    Dan Senor, Saul Singer

    October 25, 2009

  • But because the amounts differ, it was either a lab error or an unexplainable anomaly.

    The Daily Beast logo
    Zero Hour for Amanda Knox

    Barbie Latza Nadeau

    September 19, 2009

Historical Examples of unexplainable

British Dictionary definitions for unexplainable



(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
Derived Formsexplainable, adjectiveexplainer, noun

Word Origin for explain

C15: from Latin explānāre to flatten, from plānus level
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for unexplainable

1711, from un- (1) "not" + explain + -able. Related: Unexplainably.



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.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper