Difference Between Describe and Explain

Main Difference – Describe vs Explain

Describe and explain are two similar words that we often consider as synonyms. However, there is a distinctive difference between describe and explain, especially when we look at their results. When we describe something, we talk about the things we see, feel, and hear. But when we are explaining something, we talk about how something happened or why it happened. Therefore, the main difference between describe and explain is that describe means to recount what happened and explain means to analyze why or how it happened.Difference Between Describe and Explain- infographic

What Does Describe Mean

When you are asked to describe something, all you have to do is recount the details regarding that thing or incident you are supposed to describe.

For example, imagine you are given the below picture and asked to describe it. How would you describe it?

Main Difference - Describe vs Explain

You can talk about everything that you can see – the place, the people, their behavior, books, background, etc.

When you describe something, you can talk about the sensations you feel through your five senses – sight, smell, touch, taste, and sound. For example, if you are asked to describe a busy street, you can talk about the sound of vehicles, the smell of smoke, the mass of vehicles and people, the heat, etc.

You can also use the four question words to describe something.

What happened?

Where did it happen?

When did it happen?

Who was involved?

When you describe something, you don’t have to analyze it or explain the causes behind it. All you have to do is just answer the above four questions.

What Does Explain Mean

Explaining is different from describing. It clarifies why something happened. It looks at the reasons.   When you are explaining something, you have to think deeply. It is only when you look past the surface details and descriptions that you can answer the question why something happened.

When the term ‘explain’ occurs in an essay question, you are expected to provide reasons and evidence to support a claim. For example,

Explain why a Cold war developed after 1945.

Describe a challenge you have faced in your life. Explain how this challenge impacted your life.

Difference Between Describe and Explain

Difference Between Describe and Explain


Describe: Describe means to give a lot of details and paint a verbal picture of a situation or idea.

Explain: Explain means to make an idea or situation clear to someone by describing it in more detail or revealing relevant facts.


Describe: Describe answers the questions what, when , where and who.

Explain: Explain answers the questions how and why.


Describe: Describing includes describing the sight, sounds, smell, taste, etc.

Explain: Explaining includes providing reasons and evidence.


Describe: Describing need observation skills.

Explain: Explaining requires both observational and analytical skills.

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About the Author: Hasa

Hasanthi is a seasoned content writer and editor with over 8 years of experience. Armed with a BA degree in English and a knack for digital marketing, she explores her passions for literature, history, culture, and food through her engaging and informative writing.