Commonly Confused Words: Explicit and Implicit

Young female works out in gym
Following an explicit command. Mike Harrington/Taxi/Getty Images

In some contexts (as explained in the usage notes below), the words explicit and implicit are antonyms — that is, they have opposite meanings.

Definitions

The adjective explicit means direct, clearly expressed, readily observable, or laid out in full. The adverb form is explicitly.

The adjective implicit means implied, unstated, or expressed indirectly. The adverb form is implicitly.

Examples

  • "I gave you an explicit order. I expect to be obeyed."
    (James Carroll, Memorial Bridge. Houghton Mifflin, 1991) 
     
  • "Most states consider sexually explicit images of minors to be child pornography, meaning even teenagers who share nude selfies among themselves can, in theory at least, be hit with felony charges that can carry heavy prison sentences and require lifetime registration as a sex offender."
    (Associated Press, "Teen Sexting Prompts Efforts to Update Child Porn Laws." The New York Times, March 17, 2016)
     
  • "'Love' is one of those words that illustrate what happens to an old, overworked language. These days with movie stars and crooners and preachers and psychiatrists all pronouncing the word, it's come to mean nothing but a vague fondness for something. In this sense, I love the rain, this blackboard, these desks, you. It means nothing, you see, whereas once the word signified a quite explicit thing--a desire to share all you own and are with someone else."
    (John Updike, "Tomorrow and Tomorrow and So Forth." The Early Stories: 1953-1975. Random House, 2003)
     
  • You must listen carefully and critically to understand Snoop's implicit message.
     
  • "In academia, 'implicit bias,' or implicit racial bias as it is here, refers to subtle forms of possibly unintentional prejudice affecting judgment and social behavior."
    (Rose Hackman, "'Black Judge Effect': Study of Overturning Rates Questions If Justice Is Really Blind." The Guardian [UK], March 17, 2016)
     

    Usage Notes

    • "These two words come from the same Latin root meaning 'to fold.' When something is explicit, it's unfolded, laid open for people to see. Implicit is the opposite of that. It means 'folded in,' in the sense that its meaning is covered or contained within something else and isn't explicit. . . .

      "An explicit statement makes a point distinctly, openly, and unambiguously. . . . An explicit picture, book, film, etc. depicts nudity or sexuality openly and graphically. . . .

      "When something is implicit, it's implied, not plainly stated. . . . Implicit belief, implicit confidence, implicit faith, etc., involve having no doubts or reservations."
      (Stephen Spector, May I Quote You on That?: A Guide to Grammar and Usage. Oxford University Press, 2015)
       
    • "The words seem perfect antonyms— but for the unexpected fact that they join in implying that what they describe is undoubtable. Implicit trust is as firm as explicit trust because quite as real. Note that implicit makes its point absolutely but that implied requires telltale loose ends (see imply, infer). . . . Tacit is often used in the same way as implicit. A tacit reconciliation is one that both parties acknowledge and act upon without speaking of it."
      (Wilson Follett, Modern American Usage: A Guide, rev. by Erik Wensberg. Hill and Wang, 1998) 
       

      Practice

      (a) "Though most people would agree that the media almost never deliver a message that explicitly encourages violence, some people argue that violence in the media carries the _____ message that violence is acceptable."
      (Jonathan L. Freedman, Media Violence and Its Effect on Aggression, 2002)

      (b) Cigarette packs carry _____ health warnings.

      Answers to Practice Exercises

      (a) "Though most people would agree that the media almost never deliver a message that explicitly encourages violence, some people argue that violence in the media carries the implicit message that violence is acceptable."
      (Jonathan L. Freedman, Media Violence and Its Effect on Aggression, 2002)

      (b) Cigarette packs carry explicit health warnings.

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      Your Citation
      Nordquist, Richard. "Commonly Confused Words: Explicit and Implicit." ThoughtCo, Jun. 15, 2017, thoughtco.com/explicit-and-implicit-1692738. Nordquist, Richard. (2017, June 15). Commonly Confused Words: Explicit and Implicit. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/explicit-and-implicit-1692738 Nordquist, Richard. "Commonly Confused Words: Explicit and Implicit." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/explicit-and-implicit-1692738 (accessed January 20, 2018).