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Explanation vs. Interpretation: What's the Difference?

Edited by Harlon Moss || By Janet White || Published on November 7, 2023
Explanation provides clarity on a subject, while Interpretation offers a viewpoint or understanding of it.

Key Differences

Explanation refers to a statement or account that makes something clear or understandable. It is often factual, aiming to shed light on a subject or process to eliminate confusion. Interpretation, conversely, involves conveying a particular perspective, meaning, or understanding of information, often based on personal or cultural viewpoints.
While Explanation seeks to answer the "what" or "how" of a situation, providing a clear, factual account, Interpretation dives deeper, tackling the "why" and offering insights based on perception. An Explanation might outline the steps of a scientific process, while an Interpretation might discuss its implications or significance.
Explanation is often straightforward, aiming for objectivity. When one asks for an Explanation, they seek clarity on a subject. Interpretation, on the other hand, is more subjective, colored by individual or collective perspectives, beliefs, and biases. It often delves into the realm of opinions and personal judgments.
In literature, Explanation would define or clarify a term or concept, while Interpretation would analyze or critique the meaning, themes, or subtext of a work. Both are crucial for comprehensive understanding, but while Explanation provides a foundation, Interpretation builds upon it to give depth and context.

Comparison Chart

Primary Aim

Provide clarity on a subject.
Offer a viewpoint or understanding of information.


Factual, straightforward.
Subjective, based on personal/cultural viewpoints.


"What" or "How."
"Why" or deeper insights.


Outline or define a term/concept.
Analyze or critique meaning/themes.


Often stands alone.
Builds upon Explanation for depth and context.

Explanation and Interpretation Definitions


A statement that makes something clear.
Her Explanation of the theorem made it easier to understand.


The act of deciphering or explaining in a certain way.
The lawyer's Interpretation of the law was controversial.


Account of the reasons behind an event.
His Explanation for being late was believable.


A personal or cultural understanding of information.
His Interpretation of the poem was different from mine.


Elucidation of a subject's details.
The manual provided an Explanation of the software's features.


Analysis of meaning or significance.
The critic's Interpretation of the film was insightful.


Clarification of a concept or process.
The teacher gave a detailed Explanation of photosynthesis.


Expression of a viewpoint on a topic.
Scholars often differ in their Interpretation of historical events.


The act or process of explaining
Launched into a detailed explanation.


A version rendered from one form to another.
Her Interpretation of the song was unique and refreshing.


Something that explains
That was supposedly the explanation for their misdeeds.


The act or process of interpreting.


A mutual clarification of misunderstandings; a reconciliation.


A result of interpreting.


The act or process of explaining.
The explanation was long and drawn-out.


An explanation or conceptualization by a critic of a work of literature, painting, music, or other art form; an exegesis.


Something that explains, makes understandable.
An explanation for the UFO sightings was easily found.


A performer's distinctive personal version of a song, dance, piece of music, or role; a rendering.


A resolution of disputed points pursuant to discussion; a mutual clarification of disputed points; reconciliation.


(countable) An act of interpreting or explaining something unclear; a translation; a version.
The interpretation of a dream, or of an enigma
The interpretation of the rules


The act of explaining, expounding, or interpreting; the act of clearing from obscurity and making intelligible; as, the explanation of a passage in Scripture, or of a contract or treaty.


(countable) A sense given by an interpreter; an exposition or explanation given; meaning.
Commentators give various interpretations of the same passage of Scripture.


That which explains or makes clear; as, a satisfactory explanation.


The discipline or study of translating one spoken or signed language into another (as opposed to translation, which concerns itself with written language).


The meaning attributed to anything by one who explains it; definition; interpretation; sense.
Different explanations [of the Trinity].


(uncountable) The power of explaining.


A mutual exposition of terms, meaning, or motives, with a view to adjust a misunderstanding, and reconcile differences; reconciliation; agreement; as, to come to an explanation.


(countable) An artist's way of expressing his thought or embodying his conception of nature.


A statement that makes something comprehensible by describing the relevant structure or operation or circumstances etc.;
The explanation was very simple
I expected a brief account


(countable) An act or process of applying general principles or formulae to the explanation of the results obtained in special cases.


Thought that makes something comprehensible


An approximation that allows aspects of a mathematical theory to be discussed in ordinary language.


The act of explaining; making something plain or intelligible;
I heard his explanation of the accident


An assignment of a truth value to each propositional symbol of a propositional calculus.


Descriptive answer to a query.
She sought an Explanation for the discrepancy in the data.


Heritage interpretation


The act of interpreting; explanation of what is obscure; translation; version; construction; as, the interpretation of a foreign language, of a dream, or of an enigma.
Look how we can, or sad or merrily,Interpretation will misquote our looks.


The sense given by an interpreter; exposition or explanation given; meaning; as, commentators give various interpretations of the same passage of Scripture.


The power or explaining.


An artist's way of expressing his thought or embodying his conception of nature.


The act or process of applying general principles or formulæ to the explanation of the results obtained in special cases.


A mental representation of the meaning or significance of something


The act of interpreting something as expressed in an artistic performance;
Her rendition of Milton's verse was extraordinarily moving


An explanation that results from interpreting something;
The report included his interpretation of the forensic evidence


An explanation of something that is not immediately obvious;
The edict was subject to many interpretations
He annoyed us with his interpreting of parables
Often imitations are extended to provide a more accurate rendition of the child's intended meaning


Can a single topic have multiple valid Explanations?

Typically, a topic has a primary factual Explanation, but there may be different ways to explain it for clarity.

Are Explanation and Interpretation synonymous?

No, Explanation clarifies, while Interpretation offers a viewpoint.

Is Explanation always factual?

Ideally, Explanation should be factual and objective, but it can sometimes be influenced by biases.

Why is Interpretation important in art?

It allows for diverse perspectives and deeper understanding of themes and meanings.

How does Interpretation affect decision-making?

Interpretation can influence how data or events are perceived, impacting decisions.

Is an Explanation necessary before Interpretation?

Often, yes. A foundational Explanation can aid in deeper Interpretation.

Can Interpretation vary among people?

Yes, Interpretation is often subjective and can differ based on personal or cultural perspectives.

Are Explanations static?

While core facts remain, the way they're explained can evolve with new knowledge.

Do all art critics have the same Interpretation?

No, Interpretation in art is highly subjective and can vary widely.

Can two people have the same facts but different Explanations?

While facts remain constant, the way they're presented or explained can vary.

Can Explanations be lengthy?

Yes, depending on the complexity of the topic.

What's a practical application of Explanation?

Instruction manuals use Explanations to clarify product use.

Why is Interpretation key in literature?

It helps uncover deeper meanings, themes, and societal critiques within texts.

Can Interpretation be wrong?

Interpretation is subjective, so while it can differ, it's not typically labeled "right" or "wrong."

Why might someone seek an Explanation?

To gain clarity or understanding on a topic or event.

How does culture affect Interpretation?

Cultural backgrounds can shape how information or events are perceived and understood.

Can Interpretations evolve over time?

Absolutely, as societal norms and knowledge change, Interpretations can shift.

How is Interpretation used in language translation?

Translators must interpret meaning and context, not just words.

Is Interpretation crucial in sciences?

Yes, Interpretation of data and results leads to conclusions and theories.

Is the Explanation of a law the same as its Interpretation?

No, Explanation would define the law, while Interpretation would discuss its application.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.

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