Some concepts are just too difficult to be fully understood. Take for example the multivariate causes of the recent recession: who among us can honestly say that he or she grasps the situation completely? With respect to topics like this, although it is not possible to thoroughly grasp the concept, attempts can be made to elucidate--at least partially--the more mysterious parts.

Accordingly, is there a phrase that means, "To make less mysterious, but not explain completely because the concept is too difficult"?

3 Answers 3


You could shed light on it - it is more illuminated that it was before, but is not necessarily fully explained.

  • The context would have to make clear that you don't mean full illumination, though. In my experience, shed light on is used in a form of understatement to mean explain fully.
    – Marthaª
    Jul 18, 2011 at 16:00
  • 6
    @Martha: Perhaps a small qualifier, e.g., "She shed some light on the question."
    – The Raven
    Jul 18, 2011 at 16:02
  • Ahh, @The Raven's suggestion is perfect when coupled with your answer @alexg. Thank you both so much! Jul 18, 2011 at 20:20

You could 'give someone the gist of' the concept, clarify it, or demystify it.

  • demystify in my mind implies complete clarification: remove mystery, as it were.
    – Marthaª
    Jul 18, 2011 at 16:41

You can give someone a "5000-foot view" of the subject, showing the "big picture" without going too far into confusing detail. You can also "put it in layman's terms", to explain a concept without jargon or other highly technical words. Such explanations are simple to grasp, but do not give the person all the knowledge that would be necessary to fully understand the concept.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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