How to Use "Layman’s Terms" in Sentences & Explanations

If you’re explaining something in layman’s terms, you’re using simple language and avoiding jargon. Learn how to use this term correctly, including when it is and is not appropriate for use.

Woman asking Layman's Terms for medicationWoman asking Layman's Terms for medication

Origin of “Layman’s Terms”

Originally, a layman was someone who was not part of the clergy, effectively a person with a profession that was not religion. However, people gradually began to use this word in a more general sense to differentiate regular people from professionals in a field. This can be applied to many fields, but it’s commonly used in those with a lot of specific vocabulary and jargon.

The expression refers to taking the perspective of someone who isn’t an expert. If you find yourself wondering whether the correct phrasing is layman’s terms or laymen’s terms, remember that it’s layman singular. Imagine a single, regular man who doesn’t know the lingo, and you’ll use the expression correctly.

Using “Layman’s Terms” in a Sentence

Now that you know what layman’s terms means, you can practice using it. The key is knowing how to structure the sentence and seeing some examples of how others use this expression.

Structuring the Sentence

You will almost always see the expression layman’s terms used with the preposition in or the verb using. When you use it, you should say “in layman’s terms” or “using layman’s terms.” You can use this phrase at the beginning of a sentence, at the end, or anywhere in the middle:

  • In layman’s terms, the defendant is the person who is accused of the crime.

  • The defendant, or in layman’s terms, the person who is accused of the crime, entered the courtroom.

  • As the defendant entered the courtroom, Ellen asked me to explain the proceedings in layman’s terms.

If you’re in doubt, ask yourself whether you can substitute a synonym for layman’s terms and still have the sentence make sense. For instance, you might ask someone to explain something “in plain English” or “in simple terms.”

Examples for Using “Layman’s Terms” 

These examples can help you learn how to use this expression:

  • Doctor, I’m not sure I understand what hypertension means. Can you please explain that in layman’s terms?

  • I work in pharmaceutical validation. In layman’s terms, this means I help test equipment and processes to make sure they are safe for users and meet the standards of the FDA.

  • He was surprised and pleased when Professor Graves offered a basic explanation of quantum physics in layman’s terms.

  • This photography text is written in layman’s terms and makes it easy for anyone to understand the basics of aperture and shutter speed.

  • After I explained my science experiment in detail, I realized that I had lost the attention of most of the people listening. I went back and explained everything in layman’s terms, and I saw the light of recognition in their eyes.

How to Explain Things in Layman’s Terms

If you are writing or speaking, your goal is to communicate. Whether you’re doing technical writing or talking to someone outside your field, it’s important to use clear language and avoid field-specific jargon

Take the Perspective of Your Audience

Before you speak or write, it’s always a good idea to take your reader or listener’s perspective. What does this person know about what you’re going to say? What will be confusing? If you avoid words and expressions the audience may not understand, you are speaking in layman’s terms.

Define Any Unfamiliar Words

Are there words you need to use that your audience may not know? You can define the words first. This effectively gives your audience a new vocabulary word and allows you to continue your explanation with the word you need to use.

Keep It Simple at First

Always start with the simplest part of the explanation. Cover the basics and then gradually add in the details that may be confusing. 

Check for Understanding

If you’re speaking out loud, check in with your audience to make sure everyone understands what you’re saying. If you’re writing, have someone less familiar with your topic read your work and tell you where you might be unclear.

Is “Layman’s Terms” Offensive?

In most cases, people are not offended by the expression layman’s terms. It does not indicate a lack of intelligence or another negative trait to be a layman in a field. However, there are a couple of situations where it may be considered impolite.

When Speaking to Someone Else in Your Field

If you are speaking to someone who professes to be an expert in your field and you tell that person you will explain it in layman’s terms, you are effectively saying that person isn’t actually an expert. This could offend your listener. In general, avoid using the expression layman’s terms with co-workers.

When Speaking on Gender-Sensitive Topics

Most people are not offended by an expression like layman’s terms, even though it gives the impression that the people included in the group are all male. However, if you are speaking about a gender-sensitive topic like women’s rights or transgender equality, it may be considered sexist language. In this case, it is better to choose a different phrase.

Communicate With Your Audience

Ultimately, if you explain things clearly, you are succeeding as a writer or speaker. From user manuals to informative speeches, using layman’s terms can help you connect with your audience and be a better communicator.

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