What is the difference between "explain" and "describe"? When to use one over the other?
closed as general reference by Carlo_R., tchrist, MετάEd, FumbleFingers, Matt Эллен Oct 11 '12 at 11:01
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Describe is used mostly to call for statements about the sensory experience of the respondent.
Explain calls for an analysis of mechanisms, motives, justifications or relationships, many of which are not available to the senses.
I think an explanation is a specific description of something. Describing is kind of an overarching verb, and explaining is describing with a certain goal in mind. To describe is to give an account of something and any details pertaining to that something. To explain is to give an account of something and any details pertaining to that something with the goal of clarifying it to someone, or making something easier to understand, or making some concept known.
I agree with @bib; imho you describe an object, and explain a process.
Explain is suited when it is an answer to How? or Why?
Describe is more appropriate for answers to What? or When?
Though What is a bit ambiguous and context-dependent:
What were you trying to achieve? (explain)
What kind of lunch did you eat? (describe)