Note: The original title of this question was "Why is 'exply' not a word?

While considering the words implicit, implicate, and imply, it struck me that I can't think of an equivalent to imply for the word explicit (specifically one with the same Latin root).

Is explain the equivalent? It has *seems to have** the same Latin root, but doesn't have the full connotation of intentionally making something explicit.

* (Edit: Thanks, Jason and e.James, for the clarification on this)

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    -1: I really don't see this as a good precedent for questions. There are lots of potential words that are not words. How are we supposed to explain why something isn't?
    – MrHen
    Mar 30, 2011 at 21:50
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    @MrHen - Perhaps you could revise my question for me. "Implicit" seems like a conjugation of "imply", but where does "explicit" come from? Which word is the origin word?
    – Nicole
    Mar 30, 2011 at 22:16
  • The NOAD etymologies of implicit, imply, and explicit confirm that the words are all very closely related, going back to Latin at least. Mar 30, 2011 at 22:33
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    @Renesis: Perhaps: What is the "explicit" equivalent of "imply"? Your question body could then stay relatively the same. Instead of asking why there is no word, you are asking what word you should use in its apparent absence. If someone just so happens to know where exply went they are likely to mention it in an answer.
    – MrHen
    Mar 30, 2011 at 22:40
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    @Renesis According to NOAD, explain does not come from the same Latin root. implicit/imply/explicit are all from plicare, to fold; explain is from planus, plain. Mar 30, 2011 at 23:31

6 Answers 6


While I agree with MrHen in the general case, I do feel that this particular question has merit. The answer comes down to the order in which these words evolved, and the nature of their Latin roots. Language is not an exact science (far, far from it).

The short answer is that the word exply (or, rather, the meaning that it would convey) already exists in the word explain.

The "im" words in your list -- imply, implicate and implicit -- all evolved from the Latin implicare (im- + plicare) which means "to in-fold" or "involve". The word explicit has similar roots: it is based on the Latin explicitus (meaning "disentangled" or "easy"), past participle of explicare (ex- + plicare) which means "to out-fold or "unfold", making it the reverse of implicare.

The word explain, however, has its roots in the Latin explanare (ex- + planare), which means "to flatten out", or "make level".

Based on these origins, there was really only one choice for the concept of implicate, since it literally meant to fold in on itself. For the opposing concept, there were two choices: explicate (to unfold), or explain (to make flat). Note that these words are still valid synonyms in English. From this position it seems obvious why the word exply never appeared: at the time when imply was evolving from its Latin origins in implicate, the word explain already existed.

To summarize, picture the words evolving in parallel (from left to right) as follows:

plicare + in -> implicare -> implicate -> imply
        + ex -> explicare -> explicate
planare + ex -> explanare -> explain

Given that exply would have the same meaning as explain, there was simply no need for it to enter into the language.

Edit (in response to the modified question, and some comments):

Is explain the equivalent? It has the same Latin root, but doesn't have the full connotation of intentionally making something explicit.

I would argue that the word explain does imply a direct intention to make something explicit. A person seldom (if ever) explains something without intending to make it very clear to their audience. Also, it does have a different Latin root. See above!

  • +1, Amazing answer, thank you! This is exactly why I asked it.
    – Nicole
    Mar 30, 2011 at 23:39
  • Thank you! Though I think kiamlaluno may be on to something with his answer as well.
    – e.James
    Mar 30, 2011 at 23:42
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    I dunno, I'm skeptical. Probably you know a whole lot more about this stuff than I do, but NOAD seems to say that all these words actually meant different things back then, and that imply, implicate, and explain all entered the language at about the same time (and explicate some time later). Mar 30, 2011 at 23:47
  • NOAD would certainly trump me. I have no formal education in this, my argument is based on the information I was able to find online. To me, the NOAD dates indicate the first occurrences of these words in English, not necessarily the first occurrences of the Latin roots evolving new meanings. Imply, for example, had a stopover in the Old French emplier before it migrated to English. Explicit, on the other hand, came directly from Latin to English.
    – e.James
    Mar 31, 2011 at 0:26
  • I feel like this punts the question a bit. If explicit became explain, then why didn't implicit become implain? Oct 13, 2022 at 16:51

The meaning of exply is already rendered with the verb state ("express something definitely or clearly in speech or writing").


There are not nearly as many occurrences where exply would be useful as there are with imply, because you need to clarify what you imply much more than you need to clarify what you exply, so it is less likely to be coined in a language.

  • Sure, only there are plenty of words less useful than exply would be. Such as aveniform. Mar 30, 2011 at 22:28
  • @Jason What does aveniform mean? I couldn't find it in any of my dictionaries. Mar 30, 2011 at 22:35
  • According to Wiktionary, it means "having the appearance of oats". I can't vouch for it personally. Mar 30, 2011 at 22:37
  • Explain is nearly the meaning I would expect exply to be, although I would expect exply to contain the connotation that something was made intentionally explicit. If that makes any sense.
    – Nicole
    Mar 30, 2011 at 22:38

Forget trying for parallelism. Just use state or declare. Either of those means to make something explicit.


Exply would certainly have a different connotation than explain, state, declare, or any other synonym you could come up with. Part of it is because in order to make something explicit, one does not need to use words. This would be relevant in a number of situations, particularly when discussing painting, film, theater, dance, or any other number of things where meaning is transferred by showing rather than telling.

In such a situation, I could easily envision saying something like:

"Painter X's early work implies a sort of religiosity, using line, color, lighting, and pose to mirror religious symbolism and ritual. In his later work, which actually depicts specific Christian sacraments, that religiosity is not just implied; it's explied."

Now try to swap explied with any synonym you want, and it doesn't work. You either get extra baggage in the connotations that you don't want, or you get different definitions that change the meaning of the sentence wholesale. Either way, the meaning is changed and you don't get the sentence you want.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a lacuna :-)

  • I don't know if it's a lacuna. Assert may also be helpful here, since it does not require speech, so if you don't mind giving agency to an inanimate thing such as a work of art, the art can assert (signifiy, uphold, claim, contend, establish, entail) a point. There is more nuance on the outward side so it's not surprising you need to pick among many. Interestingly, in formal logic, imply A => B does mean explicit certainty.
    – BaseZen
    May 15, 2021 at 17:29
  • Sorry to keep rambling on, but the phrase is manifest kept coming to me so I found this: Even the most religious of Hopkins’ poems exhibit values that transcend the boundaries of his particular religious faith, and it is not necessary to share Hopkins’ religious faith to appreciate the artistic power and depth of insight into life that is manifest in his poetry. epublications.marquette.edu/cgi/…
    – BaseZen
    May 15, 2021 at 17:39

Where explain, state, declare, or so forth are unacceptable, consider using the word "denote" instead. It does not cover every situation, but it is helpful sometimes. My example:

"I find it odd that the word “baptism” is used to describe the washing of hands in Luke 11:38 when we are so insistent that the word always denotes a complete bodily submersion."

I was trying to figure out if "exply" was a living English word before this usage of the word "denote" occurred to me. Is this reasonable to the rest of you?

Edit: In response to Matt's example:

"Painter X's early work implies a sort of religiosity, using line, color, lighting, and pose to mirror religious symbolism and ritual. In his later work, which actually depicts specific Christian sacraments, that religiosity is not just implied; it's explied."

Rather than using the terms "implied" and "explied" in this sense, why not simply replace them with "implicit" and "explicit." In doing so, you have rendered new adjectives from verbs which were in turn rendered from these adjectives.

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