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


verb con·tain \kən-ˈtān\

Simple Definition of contain

  • : to have (something) inside

  • : to have or include (something)

  • : to keep (something) from spreading : to keep (something) within limits

Full Definition of contain

  1. transitive verb
  2. 1 :  to keep within limits: as a :  restrain, control <could hardly contain her enthusiasm> b :  check, halt <contain the spread of a deadly disease> c :  to follow successfully a policy of containment toward <efforts to contain Communism> d :  to prevent (as an enemy or opponent) from advancing or from making a successful attack

  3. 2 a :  to have within :  hold b :  comprise, include <the bill contains several new clauses>

  4. 3 a :  to be divisible by usually without a remainder b :  enclose, bound

  5. intransitive verb
  6. :  to restrain oneself

con·tain·able play \-ˈtā-nə-bəl\ adjective

Examples of contain

  1. The room was barely big enough to contain everyone who came to the meeting.

  2. The book contains over 200 recipes.

  3. The article contains information on how to plan your retirement.

  4. foods that contain a high level of fat

  5. The movie contains something for both children and adults.

  6. State health officials have succeeded in containing the virus.

Origin of contain

Middle English conteinen, from Anglo-French cunteign-, cuntyen-, stem of cuntenir, from Latin continēre to hold together, hold in, contain, from com- + tenēre to hold — more at thin

First Known Use: 14th century

Synonym Discussion of contain

contain, hold, accommodate mean to have or be capable of having within. contain implies the actual presence of a specified substance or quantity within something <the can contains a quart of oil>. hold implies the capacity of containing or the usual or permanent function of containing or keeping <the bookcase will hold all my textbooks>. accommodate stresses holding without crowding or inconvenience <the hall can accommodate 500 people>.

Seen and Heard

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


February 11, 2016

the holder of an office

Get Word of the Day daily email!


Take a 3-minute break and test your skills!


How much does a batman (the Turkish unit of measurement) weigh?

100 pounds 2.2 pounds 16.96 pounds 196.5 pounds
Name That Thing

10 quick questions: hear them, spell them, and see how your skills compare to the crowd.


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