Quantcast
Merriam-Webster Logo
  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
  • Scrabble
  • Spanish Central
  • Learner's Dictionary

abstain

play
verb ab·stain \əb-ˈstān, ab-\

Simple Definition of abstain

  • : to choose not to do or have something

  • : to choose not to vote

Source: Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary

Full Definition of abstain

  1. intransitive verb
  2. :  to refrain deliberately and often with an effort of self-denial from an action or practice <abstain from drinking>

abstainer noun

Examples of abstain in a sentence

  1. Ten members voted for the proposal, six members voted against it, and two abstained.



Did You Know?

If you "abstain," you're consciously and usually with effort choosing to "hold back" from doing something that you would like to do. So it's no surprise that "abstain" traces back through Middle English and Anglo-French to the Latin abstinēre, which combines the prefix ab- ("from, away, off") with "tenēre," a Latin verb meaning "to hold." "Tenēre" has many offspring in English - other descendants include "contain," "detain," "maintain," "obtain," "pertain," "retain," and "sustain," as well as some words that don't end in "-tain," such as "tenacious." "Abstain," like many of its cousins, has been used by English speakers since at least the 14th century.

Origin of abstain

Middle English absteinen, from Anglo-French asteign-, absteign-, stem of astenir, abstenir, from Latin abstinēre, from abs-, ab- + tenēre to hold — more at thin


First Known Use: 14th century


ABSTAIN Defined for Kids

abstain

play
verb ab·stain \əb-ˈstān\

Definition of abstain for Students

abstainedabstaining

  1. :  to choose not to do or have something <abstain from voting>

abstainer noun



Medical Dictionary

abstain

play
intransitive verb ab·stain \əb-ˈstān, ab-\

Medical Definition of abstain

  1. :  to refrain deliberately and often with an effort of self-denial from an action or practice (as consumption of a food or a drug or indulgence in sexual intercourse)

abstainer noun



Law Dictionary

abstain

play
intransitive verb ab·stain \əb-ˈstān, ab-\

Legal Definition of abstain

  1. :  to refrain from exercising federal jurisdiction over a case :  cause an abstention <federal courts should normally abstain from intervening in pending court-martial proceedings — Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, 548 U.S. 557 (2006)>





Seen and Heard

What made you want to look up abstain? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).

WORD OF THE DAY

a timid, meek, or unassertive person

Get Word of the Day daily email!

WORD GAMES

Take a 3-minute break and test your skills!

alt-5746713d76276

Which of these is a synonym of nonplus?

soothe disapprove reduce perplex
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!

TAKE THE QUIZ
SCRABBLE® Sprint

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

TAKE THE QUIZ