According to OALD

Explain somebody something is wrong for example

Can you explain me the situation(this sentence is wrong).

But I found the following sentence in a book

She is very weak in the subject and does not understand things though the teacher explains her repeatedly.

I think the sentence given above is wrong.

Instead it should be though the teacher explains to her repeatedly.

But isn't it awkward?

  • 1
    Indeed, it is wrong. How would you correct it? Jun 13, 2020 at 9:21
  • 1
    In your revised sentence, what does the teacher explain to her repeatedly?
    – JMB
    Jun 15, 2020 at 10:22
  • Explain can be used intransitively so I need not use an object for explain. Jun 15, 2020 at 10:24
  • While explain can be intransitive, I'm struggling to find a good example where it means the same thing as when transitive but is used intransitively. I think the issue might be that your context is one where the transitive form simply fits better, because there's something being explained. The intransitive is not a "shortening" of the transitive form in the same way in English as it is in some languages—it's often not understood the same as using transitive plus pronoun. In some contexts it might happen to mean the same thing, but via a subtly different path.
    – Dan Getz
    Jun 15, 2020 at 15:16
  • For example, your sentence is not intended to mean anything like "math is difficult for her, despite the teacher explaining poetry or car repair to her repeatedly". It's the same subject, the same things, so transitive with a pronoun is more appropriate.
    – Dan Getz
    Jun 15, 2020 at 15:19

3 Answers 3


As you mentioned in comment, "explain" is intransitive. It doesn't require an object, for example, "allow me to explain" could be a complete sentence. If you do use it with an object, you need a preposition to introduce the object.

Also, the word "explain" means to make some specific idea or point clear, so in most contexts, you should state the point or idea being explained. If you have already mentioned what that point is, you could just refer back to it using the pronoun "it".

For example:

The teacher explained it to her repeatedly.

This is correct, nothing awkward about it at all. It shows what is being explained, and to whom.

Because of the second point about the subject being explained, if you simply said "the teacher explained her" it sounds like "her" is the thing being explained.

  • Note that if there are multiple things being explained, "it" becomes "them". Though to be clear, you're suggesting using the transitive version instead of the intransitive? I'm struggling to find an example of intransitive "explain" that means the same as the transitive.
    – Dan Getz
    Jun 15, 2020 at 15:10

I will try to explain this to you. "Explain" is a verb that can be either transitive or intransitive. There is a noun form "explanation".

"Jacob should explain himself." The speaker of this sentence feels that Jacob owes an explanation for past behavior.

It would be helpful for you, as is often the case, to turn your sentence into a question and ask what needs explaining, and who needs to be explained to.

Your first example does not work because you explain something to someone in the present tense. In the past tense, you explained something to someone.

You would ask, "Can you explain the situation to me?" or "Can you explain to me what happened?" or "Can you explain [to me] what the situation was?"

Remember, the construction is Subject [You] + Verb [explain] + object [what you are explaining]

You are correct the example in the book is not correct. It should be, as you have stated, though the teacher explains to her repeatedly.

And you are correct again, it is a little awkward because you might prefer the adverb closer to the verb such as in "though the teacher repeatedly explains it to her."


When you explain something to someone, you provide information. Sometimes that information is detailed steps on how to do something.

Sometimes a teacher typically wants to provide just a little direction to students and then have them learn on their own, the idea being they will understand things more strongly if they have done most of the work themselves.

Sometimes the student is having trouble and tells the teacher, "I'd like you to explain this", asking the teacher to provide detailed steps.

Teach works like give and takes two objects.

I'm going to teach you the proper way to do this.

So there could be temptation to use explain in the same way.

Can you teach me the steps?

Can you explain me the steps in the more detail?

However explain doesn't really work like teach.

The origin of the word explain (reference) provides some clues:

early 15c., explanen, "make (something) clear in the mind, to make intelligible," from Latin explanare "to explain, make clear, make plain," literally "make level, flatten," from ex "out" (see ex-) + planus "flat" (from PIE root *pele- (2) "flat; to spread").

Basically, when you explain something, you're "laying it out flat so it's more easily seen/understood". The model here is that you are doing something to the thing you are explaining to make it more understood. The person needing the explanation should be "taking" it.

though the teacher explains to her repeatedly.

This sounds awkward because the reader/listener doesn't know what is being explained./ Unless context is strong enough for the reader/listener to automatically fill something in, the one required object of explain needs to be expressed.

Allow me to explain.

Explain here is an infinitive and those don't always need objects. Also, if you are literally asking someone to allow you to explain something, that's a pretty strong context and they will know what you are trying to explain to them.

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