Difference Between Describe vs. Explain

Main Difference

The main difference between the terms describes and explain that describe means to tell what happened and explain refers to analyze why or how it happened.

Describe vs. Explain

Describe means to give so many details and paint a verbal picture of any situation or idea. Explain means to make a situation clear to someone by describing it in more detail or revealing relevant facts. Describing is to give an account of something and any details about that thing. Explaining is giving an account of and giving details of something to make it easier to understand. The verb describes answers the questions like what, when, where, and who. The verb explains answers questions like how and why. Description lists the properties or features of a thing, process or event, etc. An explanation relates the event or thing to a larger context that clarifies it and makes it more understandable. The description helps to recognize or identify the thing. Explanation further extends its details and tells more about that thing. It is a specific kind of description of something that is done with a certain goal in mind. Describing includes describing the sounds, smell, sight, taste, etc. Explaining includes providing reasons and evidence. Describing need the skills of observation. Explaining requires both analytical and observational skills. To describe something is to give a list of qualities or properties or a thing, process or event, etc. with some purpose and sense of relevance in mind. To explain something is to make reference to a larger context that helps ground its meaning. It also relates two or more things together in a way that makes each more comprehensive.

Comparison Chart

DescribeExplain
When someone tries to visualize somethingRecounts analysis things which are not available to the senses
Content
Includes describing the sight, sounds, smell, taste, etc.Includes providing reasons and evidence
Skills
Need observation skillsRequires both observational and analytical skills
Answers
What, when, where and whoHow and why

What is Describe?

Describe is more often used when someone tries to visualize something. It is used to call for statements about the sensory experience of the respondent. Describing something includes recounting the details regarding that thing or incident you are supposed to describe. For example, you can talk about the place, the people, their behavior, books, background, etc. when describing a picture. While describing something, you can tell about the sensations you feel through five senses hearing, smell, sight, touch, and taste. For example, you can talk about the sound of vehicles, the smell of smoke, the mass of vehicles and people, etc. when describing a busy street. Describe means to give so many details and paint a verbal picture of any situation, event, incident, or idea. Describing is to give an account of something and any details about that thing. Furthermore, the term describes requires an answer that says what something is like, how it works, and so on. The word describe suggests the detailed explanation of the points or salient features of an event, episode, and the like. The noun form of the verb “describe” is “description.” For instance, a description of Abraham Lincoln normally won’t mention that he possessed a nose and two feet, or that he was a human being. Some properties are more important than others, which is determined by the context. Describing a thing don’t need to analyze it or explain the causes behind it. It only needs the answers to four questions in the description of an event or incident. These are:

  • What happened?
  • Where did it happen?
  • When did it happen?
  • Who was involved?

Examples

  • I described my experience in London in a newspaper article.
  • His accent was described as an American one.

What is Explain?

Explain recounts analysis of mechanisms, justifications, motives, or relationships, many of which are not available to the senses. Explaining clarifies the cause of some happening. It looks for the reasons. Explaining something requires thinking deeply. The verb explains an answer that offers an exact and detailed explanation of a principle, idea, or a set of reasons for a situation or attitude. One thing is worth mentioning that the verb ‘explain’ is not used with two objects. It is wrong to say ‘she explains him something.’ The correct usage is saying, ‘she explains something to him.’ Hence, explain is a kind of verb that cannot be used with two objects. It is also a verb that is often followed by the preposition ‘to’ right after an object. In the usage of this word explain, this is an important observation. The word explain is all about going into the details, even minor ones. The noun form of the verb explain is the explanation. This term is used when you look past the surface descriptions and details that you can answer the question of why something happened. When the term ‘explain’ occurs in the essay question, you have to provide reasons and evidence to support a claim.

Examples

  • Explain how an internal combustion engine works.
  • Explain how the challenges of your life affected you

Key Differences

  1. Describing is to give an account of something, and any details about that thing whereas explaining is giving an account of and giving details of something to make it easier to understand.
  2. The verb describes answers the questions like what, when, where, and who conversely the verb explain answers the questions like how, and why.
  3. Description lists the properties or features of a thing on the flip side; an explanation relates the thing to a larger context.
  4. The description helps to recognize or identify the thing while the explanation further extends its details and tells more about that thing.
  5. Describing includes describing the sounds, smell, sight, taste, etc. on the other hand, explaining includes providing the reasons and evidence.
  6. Describing need the skills of observation and explaining requires both analytical and observational skills.

Author:

Aimie Carlson

Aimie Carlson is an English language enthusiast who loves writing and has a master degree in English literature. Follow her on Twitter at @AimieCarlson

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