Describe vs. Explain

What's the Difference?

Describe and explain are two verbs that are often used interchangeably, but they have distinct meanings and purposes. When we describe something, we provide a detailed account or portrayal of its characteristics, qualities, or features. This involves painting a picture with words, focusing on the sensory details and providing a clear and vivid image. On the other hand, when we explain something, we aim to clarify or make something understandable by providing reasons, causes, or justifications. Explanation involves breaking down complex concepts or processes into simpler terms, offering insights and analysis to enhance understanding. While description focuses on providing a visual or sensory experience, explanation delves into the underlying mechanisms or reasons behind something.


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DefinitionProvide a detailed account or portrayal of something.Make something clear or understandable by giving a detailed account or reasoning.
PurposeTo give information or details about a subject.To provide clarity and understanding by breaking down a subject or concept.
FocusOn providing a description or depiction of something.On providing an explanation or reasoning behind something.
Level of DetailCan be detailed or concise, depending on the context.Typically more detailed and in-depth to ensure understanding.
ObjectiveTo present facts, characteristics, or qualities of a subject.To make a subject or concept clear, logical, and comprehensible.
Example"Describe the main features of the new product.""Explain how the scientific method is used in research."
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Further Detail


When it comes to communication, two fundamental skills that play a crucial role in conveying information are describing and explaining. While these terms are often used interchangeably, they have distinct attributes that set them apart. In this article, we will explore the differences between describing and explaining, examining their unique characteristics, purposes, and applications.

Describing: Painting a Picture

Describing is the act of providing a detailed account or portrayal of something, whether it be an object, event, person, or concept. It involves using words to create a vivid mental image in the reader or listener's mind. Descriptions focus on the sensory details, such as appearance, texture, color, sound, taste, and smell, to provide a comprehensive understanding of the subject.

When describing, the emphasis is on providing an accurate representation of the subject, capturing its essence and characteristics. Descriptions often rely on adjectives, adverbs, and figurative language to enhance the imagery and engage the audience. For example, a description of a sunset might include phrases like "a fiery orange ball sinking below the horizon," or "the sky ablaze with hues of pink and purple."

Describing is particularly useful in creative writing, literature, and visual arts, where the goal is to evoke emotions, create atmosphere, or transport the audience to a specific time or place. It allows the reader or listener to form a mental image and connect with the subject on a sensory level.

Explaining: Unveiling the Why and How

Explaining, on the other hand, involves providing information, clarifying concepts, or revealing the underlying principles and mechanisms behind a subject. It aims to make something understandable by breaking it down into simpler terms or steps. Unlike descriptions, explanations focus on the logical and rational aspects rather than sensory details.

When explaining, the emphasis is on providing a clear and concise account of the subject, answering questions like "why does it happen?" or "how does it work?" Explanations often involve presenting facts, theories, cause-and-effect relationships, or step-by-step processes to help the audience grasp the subject matter.

Explanations are commonly used in educational settings, scientific research, technical writing, and problem-solving scenarios. They enable the audience to gain knowledge, understand complex concepts, and apply the information in practical ways. For example, an explanation of the water cycle might involve discussing evaporation, condensation, and precipitation, and how they contribute to the continuous movement of water on Earth.

Distinct Attributes

While both describing and explaining serve the purpose of conveying information, they differ in several key attributes:


Describing focuses on sensory details, capturing the essence and appearance of the subject, while explaining concentrates on providing logical and rational information, unveiling the underlying principles or mechanisms.


The purpose of describing is to create a mental image, evoke emotions, or engage the audience on a sensory level. On the other hand, the purpose of explaining is to provide understanding, clarify concepts, or enable practical application of knowledge.

Language Use

Descriptions often employ vivid adjectives, adverbs, and figurative language to enhance the imagery and engage the audience's senses. In contrast, explanations rely on clear and concise language, presenting facts, theories, or step-by-step processes to facilitate comprehension.


Describing is commonly used in creative writing, literature, and visual arts, where the goal is to create atmosphere or transport the audience to a specific time or place. Conversely, explanations find their place in educational, scientific, technical, and problem-solving contexts, where understanding and practical application are paramount.

Applications in Different Fields

Both describing and explaining find their applications in various fields, depending on the context and purpose. Let's explore some examples:


  • In literature, authors use descriptions to bring characters, settings, and events to life, allowing readers to immerse themselves in the story.
  • In visual arts, artists use descriptions to convey the visual elements of their work, such as color, texture, and composition, enhancing the viewer's understanding and appreciation.
  • In travel writing, descriptions are employed to transport readers to exotic locations, painting a vivid picture of the scenery, culture, and experiences.


  • In science, explanations are used to clarify complex theories, phenomena, or experimental results, enabling researchers to build upon existing knowledge and make new discoveries.
  • In technical writing, explanations are crucial for providing instructions, troubleshooting guides, or user manuals, ensuring users can effectively operate or fix a product or system.
  • In education, explanations help teachers convey concepts, theories, or problem-solving strategies to students, fostering understanding and facilitating learning.


In summary, while describing and explaining are both essential communication skills, they have distinct attributes and serve different purposes. Describing focuses on sensory details, creating vivid mental images and engaging the audience's emotions. On the other hand, explaining aims to provide understanding, clarifying concepts, and enabling practical application of knowledge. By recognizing the unique characteristics of each, we can effectively utilize these skills in various contexts, whether it be in creative writing, scientific research, or everyday communication.

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