Interpret and construe are close enough in meaning that if you look them up in the dictionary, you might see them defining each other! But that’s not to say that there aren’t differences between the two. Interpret is the more common verb and it primarily means “to explain” or “to provide the meaning of,” as in the case of someone who interprets a symbol or interprets the hidden meaning in a written passage. More loosely, to interpret something is to make sense of it. Construe implies a bit more subjectivity or variety of perspective. To construe something is to deduce its meaning by inference, or to understand something in a particular way, especially in a legal context. It is related to the verb construct by way of Latin construere “to put together, build.” While that etymological tidbit is unlikely to help you win trivia night, it is helpful in remembering how to use this word: when you construe something you are, in a way, putting together its meaning or significance.
To describe something is to tell or depict it in written or spoken words: He described the accident very carefully. The synonym portray suggests a more graphic or vivid accounting of events. This term, as you might’ve guessed, has an artistic heritage; its earliest use in English was to mean “to make a likeness of by drawing, painting, or carving.” This brings into focus portray’s connection to such words as portrait and portraiture. When you portray something, you’re not just recounting it; you’re attempting to paint a picture with words! More theatrically, portray means “to represent dramatically,” as an actor might represent a historical figure on the stage.
The adjective essential is used to describe things that are absolutely necessary for a particular purpose. For example, discipline is essential in an army. This all-important descriptor is related to the noun essence, which is defined as “the basic, real, and invariable nature of a thing.” Indeed, sometimes essential suggests that which is in the very essence of constitution of a thing: Oxygen and hydrogen are essential in water. The synonym indispensable is a strong synonym for essential: it is used to describe people or things that are absolutely necessary or requisite—in other words, people or things that cannot be done without: She was an indispensable member of the staff.