How should I say in Classical Latin the following phrases?

  • "Explain yourself!"

  • "I didn't explain myself well", "I didn't make myself / wasn't clear"

I've been thinking of the verbs explico and explano, and the adjective dilucidus,a,um , but I couldn't find a natural and attested way to phrase those expressions.

2 Answers 2


"To explain oneself", as an official-sounding idiomatic expression for providing plausible reasons or explanation for one's statements or behaviour, can be expressed with (examples mine unless noted, translations variously mine or lifted from the Loebs):

quid sibi vult? (ctrl+F "sibi vult") is perhaps the shortest and most idiomatic:

  • Quid istuc est? Aut quid istic sibi vult sermō? Māter, dēlicā. (Titinius Tog. 102 R)
    What's that? Or rather, what's the meaning of this speech? Do explain, mother.
  • Quid volt sibī, Syre, haec ōrātio? (Ter. Heaut. 616)
    What does she mean by that remark, Syrus?

Similar is the interrogative adverb quōrsum:

  • Quōrsum haec (Ø, tendunt, pertinent, spectant)?
    Where are you heading with this? What's the purpose/intended meaning of this? What is this in relation to?


  • Quid istuc est? Quid flēs? Quid lacrimās largitus? Prōloquere! (Afran. ap. Non. 514, 31)
    What is this? What's with the weeping? Why the copious crying? Come on, tell me!

ratiōnem reddere:

  • Tibi ego ratiōnem reddam, stimulōrum seges?! (Pl. Aul. 45)
    I should be accountable to you, you crop of cattle-prods?!

satisfactiō, in certain contexts:

  • Hīc tū mē etiam īnsimulās nec satisfactiōnem meam accipis? (Cic. Fam. 7, 13, 1)
    And now do you still persist in making false charges against me and refuse to accept my explanation?

There's also the verb satisfacere (ctrl+F to "facio"), but it seems to me to sound too grave and explicitly recognise guilt by making amends:

  • Accēperam jam ante Caesaris litterās ut mihi satis fierī paterer a tē... (Cic. Phil. 2, 20, 49)
    I had previously received a letter from Caesar asking me to accept your apologies...

excūsātiō and sē excūsāre can also be used to acknowledge potentially being in the wrong, and by extension ironically to request an explanation. However, I don't think that excūsā tē!, proposed in another reply, is any more appropriate than the English "excuse yourself!", "present your excuses!":

  • Quid dīcis/affers/offers in excūsātiōnem (tuī)?
    What do you say/offer/present in your defence?
  • Quōmodo mē excūsābō reī pūblicae, cui duōs abstulī? (SenRhet. ConExc. 4 , 3, 1)
    How do I excuse myself before the republic, having deprived it of two of its citizens?

However it must be understood that none of these are unambiguous idiomatic interjections like "Explain yourself!", and most of the time you have to explicitly state what it is you're asking an explanation for.

There are also verbs like causārī, obtendere, praetendere, praetexere, ad aliquid confugere which all can be used to mean "provide as a cause, excuse, justification". I'll leave it to the reader to look up their usage in the dictionaries - they're welcome to edit this answer with their findings.

"To explain oneself well", meaning "to successfully explain one's thoughts/meaning/the matter at hand", can be expressed in quite a few ways (examples mine unless noted):

  • Vereor nē rem minus praeclārē explicārim.
    I fear I haven't explained the matter all too well.
  • Putō mē nōn sānē rēctē dīxisse.
    I think I didn't say that quite right.
  • Sciō mē ista nēquāquam tam apertē nec plānē explicāsse.
    I know I explained that by no means plainly or intelligibly.
  • Videor mihi parum {dīlūcidē, perspicuē, ēnōdātē} {dīcere, rem expōnere, narrāre, etc}.
    I guess I'm not expressing myself/explaining/presenting this in the most obvious terms/accessible way.

These are obviously all somewhat verbose. If you want a shorter, more interjecton-like reply, equivalent to "you don't understand":

  • {Minus, haud rēctē, perperam} intelligis.
    You don't understand/You misunderstand etc.
  • Haud rem tenēs.
    No, it's not like that/That's not what I mean.
  • Ista omnīnō perperam interpretāstī.
    You've got it completely wrong/That's absolutely not what I meant.
  • PA: Nōn opīnor, Dāve. DA: "Opīnor" narrās? Nōn rēctē accipis: certa rēs est! (Ter. Andr. 367)
    PA: I don't think so, Davus. DA: Pfft, think? You don't get it: it’s a certainty!

Hopefully this will give you some options to work with :-)


Well, here we have the reflexive pronouns and

Moreover, with the tone you are setting with the phrase "explain yourself," I would think excusa would be better.


Tē excusa! Explain yourself!
Mē non bene (clare; delucide) explicare. I did not explain myself well (clearly).
Non mē clarus/-a (dilucidus/-a) fuī. I was not clear.
-or better-
Non mē claravī. I did not make myself clear.

(someone correct me on the case of the reflexive)

  • 2
    "Explain yourself!" may indeed sometimes (not always though) be tantamount to "Justify yourself!", but in that case excuso does not seem the way to go: L&S give "to excuse sb/sth, to apologize for, to atone for". // The verbs claro and explico don't seem to take a personal pronoun - at least, I couldn't find any instances of explicavi me or claravi me (and analogues). // For a person, to be clarus/a meant to be "illustrious", not "clear" - and dilucidus refers to speech itself, not people. May 15, 2019 at 10:16
  • @ Vincenzo Oliva: Do you have any recommendation for a good lexicon or dictionary that would better explain the subtleties to better aid my diction? May 17, 2019 at 20:47
  • @MediaMatellaLucretiaFlores I'm sure people appreciate you trying to help, but when your knowledge of the language is quite rudimentary, you cannot rely on it to do so. Your sentences range from meaning the wrong thing to completely incomprehensible. You can absolutely still help by giving suggestions of (classically) attested phrases whose translations you've made sure are correct. Here's a question with some dictionary suggestions: latin.stackexchange.com/questions/867/… Jun 9, 2019 at 10:37

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