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Quick answer
"Explicar" is a transitive verb which is often translated as "to explain", and "aclarar" is a transitive verb which is often translated as "to clarify". Learn more about the difference between "explicar" and "aclarar" below.
A transitive verb is a verb that requires a direct object (e.g. I bought a book.).
1. (to give an explanation)
a. to explain
¿Me puede explicar cómo funciona?Could you explain to me how it works?
2. (to give instruction)
a. to teach
La profesora explicó la primera lección del libro en clase.The teacher taught the first lesson of the book in class.
b. to lecture in
El profesor explicó la teoría de la relatividad.The teacher lectured in the theory of relativity.
A pronominal verb always uses a reflexive pronoun. (e.g. Te ves cansado.).
3. (to give an explanation)
a. to explain oneself
¿Qué quiere decir con eso? Explíquese.What do you mean by that? Explain yourself.
4. (to make out)
a. to understand
No se explican cómo los ladrones pudieron entrar al banco.They can't understand how the thieves broke into the bank.
5. (to express)
a. to make oneself understood
Nadie está siguiendo mis instrucciones; no he conseguido explicarme.Nobody is following my instructions; I failed to make myself understood.
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A transitive verb is a verb that requires a direct object (e.g. I bought a book.).
1. (to make clear)
a. to clarify
La acusada intentó aclarar su motivación, pero para mí sigue siendo algo ilógico lo que hizo.The defendant tried to clarify her motives, but what she did still seems illogical to me.
b. to explain
¿Quién me puede aclarar lo que pasó aquí anoche?Who can explain to me what happened here last night?
c. to make clear
Solo quiero aclarar que no te quise ofender con ese comentario.I just want to make it clear that I didn't mean to offend you with that comment.
d. to clear up
Me aseguró que se lo aclararía al jefe para no se me echara la culpa a mí.He assured me he'd clear it up with the boss so I didn't get the blame.
2. (to dilute)
a. to thin
Si aclaras la salsa pomodoro con un poco de vino blanco, el sabor se mejora mucho.If you thin tomato sauce with a little bit of white wine, the flavor is much better.
3. (to decrease the density of)
a. to clear
El servicio forestal va a aclarar 40 hectáreas del bosque para disminuir el riesgo de incendio.The forest service is going to clear 40 hectares of forest to reduce the risk of fire.
4. (to wash)
Regionalism used in Spain
a. to rinse
Después de lavar la ropa, hay que aclararla con agua tibia.After washing the clothes, you have to rinse them in warm water.
5. (to bleach)
a. to lighten
Se ve que fuiste a la playa, porque el sol te ha aclarado mucho el cabello.You can tell you went to the beach, because the sun has really lightened your hair.
b. to make lighter
¿Qué usas para aclarar el cabello?What do you use to make your hair lighter?
An intransitive verb is one that does not require a direct object (e.g. The man sneezed.).
6. (to dissipate)
a. to clear
Los niños salieron a jugar cuando el cielo aclaró.The children went out to play when the sky cleared.
b. to clear up
Espero que la neblina aclare, porque quiero salir un rato en el velero.I hope the fog clears up, because I want to go out on my sailboat for a while.
An impersonal verb is a verb with no apparent subject (e.g. Llueve en España.).
7. (to grow light)
a. to get light
Aclara antes de las 5 am en Oregon en el verano.It gets light before 5am in Oregon in the summer.
b. to dawn
Cuando aclara, salgo a correr.When it dawns, I go out for a run.
A pronominal verb always uses a reflexive pronoun. (e.g. Te ves cansado.).
8. (to understand)
a. to get oneself straight
Tu total y el mío no coinciden. Hay que revisar los gastos uno por uno para aclararnos.Your total and mine don't match. We need to review the expenses one by one to see if we can get ourselves straight.
b. to get one's head round something
Hazme un diagrama a ver si así me aclaro.Draw me a diagram to see if that will help me get my head round it.
c. to get the hang of
Parece que por fin te aclaraste con cómo usar la caja.It looks like you've finally got the hang of how to use the register.
9. (to bleach)
a. to lighten
¿Te aclaraste el pelo, Nora?Did you lighten your hair, Nora?
10. (to clarify)
a. to clear up
¿Ya se aclararon las cosas entre tu hermano y su novia?Have things between your brother and his girlfriend cleared up?
A reflexive verb is a verb that indicates that the subject performs an action on itself (e.g. Miguel se lava.).
11. (to make one's voice more intelligible)
a. to clear one's throat
Se paró en frente del público y se aclaró antes de saludarles.He stood in front of the audience and cleared his throat before saying hello.
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