Sign up ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

How do you ask someone to explain something in very simple words, understandable by everyone from general public? In Russia we say something, that can be translated like "explain on fingers". What's the correct English for this?

share|improve this question
Honestly, "explain it in simple terms" is a perfectly good way to say this. – JSBձոգչ Apr 19 '11 at 13:12

5 Answers 5

up vote 13 down vote accepted

Could you put that in layman's terms?


share|improve this answer
Thanks. That's exactly what I've forgotten and couldn't bring back to my mind – Vladislav Rastrusny Apr 19 '11 at 12:18
@FractalizeR You're welcome. As you are Russian, would you perhaps consider joining this SE proposal:… – z7sg Ѫ Apr 19 '11 at 12:53
I will, thanks ;) As soon as one of my commitments start. I've wasted all three already. – Vladislav Rastrusny Apr 19 '11 at 16:39

For clarity, some of the phrases given as answers have more of an "explain it succinctly," than an "explain it simply" connotation. Others have more of a give me the essentials meaning. Here's some more of each (there is some overlap):

give me the quick and dirty
give me the Reader's Digest version
what's the TL;DR?

draw me a picture
spell it out for me
break it down for me
make it plain

get down to the nitty gritty
get to the meat and potatoes
get down to brass tacks
give me the nuts and bolts
"Just the facts, ma'am"

share|improve this answer
You forgot my personal favorite, "dumb it down for me." :P – kitukwfyer Apr 19 '11 at 17:26
@kitukwfyer: Good one. I was afraid I'd miss an obvious one. – Callithumpian Apr 19 '11 at 18:38
Great list! :-) – Kristina Lopez Nov 21 '12 at 2:27

You could say

Give me the CliffsNotes.

CliffsNotes are short synopses of longer literary works, usually used by students who don't want to read a whole work

Or you could try:

Give me the elevator pitch.

This is used in business a lot. The idea is that you are asking someone to pretend that they happen to get on an elevator with a prime customer and they only have the time between when the doors close and they open on the customer's floor to sell him on a product or an idea.

I especially like the phrase Denzel Washington's character used again and again in the film Philadelphia:

Joe Miller: Now, explain it to me like I'm a four-year-old.

share|improve this answer

If speaking to someone you are comfortable with you could ask them to "explain it in twenty five words or less". This is quite informal.

Otherwise you could ask for something to be explained "in simple terms".

share|improve this answer

... in words of one syllable.

share|improve this answer

protected by tchrist Nov 2 at 11:02

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality answers, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.