We previously defined a number of words that you might see used as prompts for essay writing – establish, construct, build and assess – and explained what you’re being asked to do when you see each of them.
“Explain” and “describe” are two more words you might encounter on exams (as well as in everyday life), and they have very different meanings.
When you’re asked to describe something, you’re being asked to give an account of its characteristics – to simply make observations about it.
When you’re asked to explain something, you need to tell WHY something is the way it is – to give reasons or justifications.
So I might describe the weather outside by saying it’s extremely hot and humid (it is! Washington, D.C. in the summer is one of the hottest cities in America!). But if I was asked to explain the weather, I might say that, according to popular myth, D.C. is built on top of swamplands, and that causes the high humidity.
Thanks for all your wonderful submissions so far. Don’t forget to check out the Glossary of Confusing Words to see some of the most important words we’ve defined (or see all the words by using the “glossary” tag). To suggest a word for us to define, leave your suggestion in the comments or use the form below.