Explicit and implicit are adjectives with opposite meanings. If something is explicit, it’s clearly understood. If something is suggested or not clearly defined, it’s implicit.
What is the difference between explicit and implicit?
The words explicit and implicit may appear similar, but they actually have opposite meanings. As phrased by Merriam-Webster, the general definition of implicit is ‘to understand without words’ or ‘to possess no doubt‘ regarding inherent truths.
In contrast, the word explicit is an adjective that describes something as ‘so clear’ that it ‘leaves no doubt to the meaning.’
Understanding explicit vs implicit concepts
If you make a promise to someone, there’s an “implicit trust” or an “implicit code” that you’ll keep your word. However, it’s also possible there’s an “implicit distrust” instead. From this example, we can see how implicit understandings are more subjective because they require individual interpretation.
You see, implicit concepts are hidden or muted from surface-level communication, much like a parable’s underlying moral lesson or even a facial expression. For example, the explicit impression of a smile is “happiness,” right? But in a new context, such as a confrontation, the smile can implicitly convey nervousness or anger.
Anything that is informative and objective is explicit. No matter the audience, there should be no other interpretation of explicit information. For instance, a user manual provides ‘explicit instructions’ for use, while road signs provide explicit information on speed limits and geographic locations.
The word explicit diverges from its initial meaning when it references the quality of being graphic or openly viewable. A typical example includes the ‘explicit content’ warnings for movies or music that contain curse words (i.e., “expletives”), violence, or sexually graphic material.
Math terms: explicit vs implicit
There is one other occurrence when the definitions of explicit vs. implicit are confusing: mathematics. When describing mathematical functions, keep the following definitions on hand:
- Implicit expressions contain dependent and independent variables on the same side of an equation.
- Explicit expressions only contain independent variables.
“… implicit multiplication is given higher priority than explicit multiplication or explicit division, in which those operations are written explicitly with symbols like × * / or ÷.” –– The New York Times
How to remember explicit vs implicit?
Mnemonics are an easy way to remember the differences between terms like explicit and implicit. Since “explicit” information is outwardly apparent, try associating the letter “e” with “exterior.” Meanwhile, “implicit” information conveys inner meanings, so we can associate the letter “i” with “interior.”
“Explicit” = E = “Exterior”
“Implicit” = I = “Interior”
What does explicit mean?
The word explicit is an adjective that describes an explanation or understanding as clear, developed, forthright, and/or unreserved. When something is “explicit,” it provides a transparent meaning in a way that is ‘fully revealed,’ and without an implied, vague, or suggested connotation. For example,
“A house is an explicit example of a home.”
“One hour is an explicit amount of time.”
“There are explicit methods for baking because the recipes are precise.”
Related terms of explicit include the adverb “explicitly” (for ‘in an explicit manner’) or the noun “explicitness” (the state of being explicit). Sentence examples include,
“She explicitly stated that she’s from New York.”
“I understand his explicitness as brutal honesty.”
Lastly, we can define the adjective explicit as ‘openly observable’ or detailing sexually graphic content. For example,
“The principal banned the novel because it contained explicit language.”
Avowed, certain, completed, declared, definite, definitive, exact, literal, specific, unambiguous, unequivocal, univocal, unmistakeable.
Ambiguous, circuitous, cryptic, enigmatic, equivocal, implicit, implied, indefinite, inexplicit, inferred, obscure, unintelligible, unspecific, vague.
Etymology of explicit
According to The American Heritage Dictionary, the word explicit derives from Latin explicitus, the past participle of explicāre (‘to unfold’). In Modern English, we understand this term as the verb “explicate,” which means ‘develop in detail’ or ‘to explain the meaning.’
What does implicit mean?
The word implicit is an adjective that describes a concept or explanation as implied, indirect, or nontransparent. When people describe something as “implicit,” they often reference an underlying or hidden meaning of something understood. For example,
“If someone yells ‘fire!’ the implicit meaning is to ‘get back’ or ‘stay away.’”
“There are several implicit methods for dating.”
“Literary texts often contain implicit information about an author’s life.”
Similarly to “explicit,” we can use implicit for the adverb “implicitly” (‘in an implicit manner’) or the noun “implicitness” (the state of being implicit). Sentence examples include,
“By noting the floor, she implicitly passed judgment on our cleanliness.”
“The implicitness of your tone sounds passive-aggressive.”
Alternative meanings of implicit
The adjective implicit contains a few similar but alternative meanings. For instance, we can use implicit in describing how something is possible, but not a fact. For example,
“All drivers face the implicit risk of car accidents.”
In other contexts, we use the adjective implicit to describe something as unquestioning or without reservations. For example,
“Family members possess an implicit love for one another.”
“All people share an implicit need for human connection.”
Adj. : Construed, hinted, implied, inferred, insinuated, interpreted, presumed, suggested, unsaid, unspoken.
Adj. : Conceivable, hypothetical, imaginable, likely, plausible, possible, potential, thinkable.
Adj. : Assured, certain, clear, confident, decisive, resolute, sanguine, unwavering.
Adj. : Apparent, blatant, explicit, evident, expressed, stated, straightforward, unmistakable.
Adj. : Authenticated, confirmed, demonstrated, established, existent, factual, proven, substantiated.
Adj. : Doubtful, dubious, hesitant, indecisive, unassuming, vacillating.
Etymology of implicit
The adjective implicit stems from Latin implicit or implicātus, the latter being the past participle of implicāre (‘to entangle’). The verb “implicate” shares etymological origins with implicit, as it describes the act of incriminating or entangling oneself or others in a situation.
How to use explicit vs implicit in a sentence?
Since the words explicit and implicit are adjectives, they modify, identify, or describe other nouns. For example,
“What is implicit bias?”
“Explicit jokes may occur.”
Outside of their grammatical function, the main trick to using explicit or implicit involves using the correct context. As a reminder:
- Use “implicit” to describe something as unspoken, indirect, or subtle.
- Use “explicit” to describe something as forthright, clear, and/or graphic.
“Implicit” sentence examples:
“Private pay systems embody an implicit tax that is more progressive than the federal government’s.” –– The New York Times
“Often it is subtle and implicit, not overt.” –– Boston Globe
“There are implicit crosswalks at most road intersections.” –– The Oregonian
“Ocasio-Cortez delivered an implicit rebuke aimed at former Vice President…” –– AP News
“Explicit” sentence examples:
“The Louvre has withdrawn a large installation by a Dutch art and design collective for being sexually explicit… “ –– The New York Times
“Explicit art was not scarce in the Roman Empire.” –– The Los Angeles Times
“The United States has an explicit right under [UN] Security Council resolution 2231.” –– The Washington Post
“An Italian rescue ship with 46 migrants on board has docked in the Italian port of Lampedusa against explicit ban.” –– AP News
Related reading: explicit vs implicit
The Word Counter regularly examines confusing words like explicit vs implicit. If you’re interested in learning more opposing terms, check out our recent posts on:
Test how well you understand the difference between explicit and implicit with the following multiple-choice questions.
- True or false: Explicit is the opposite of implicit?
- Choose the correct word: “Wordpress ____________ denies responsibility for copyright infringements.”
- Choose the correct word: “The accusation ____________ ties the senator to previous crimes.”
- What is not an example of explicit information?
a. Tax rates
b. Instruction manuals
c. Road signs
d. Song lyrics
- What is not an example of implicit information?
a. Facial expressions
b. Moral lesson
c. Book title
- “Explicate.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2020.
- “Explicit.” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th ed., Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2020.
- “Explicit.” The Merriam-Webster.com Thesaurus, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2020.
- “Implicate.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2020.
- “Implicit.” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th ed., Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2020.
- “Implicit.” The Merriam-Webster.com Thesaurus, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2020.
- Strogatz, S. “That Vexing Math Equation? Here’s an Addition.” The New York Times, 5 Aug 2019.