Simple Definition of detain
: to officially prevent (someone) from leaving a place : to hold or keep (someone) in a prison or some other place
: to keep or prevent (someone) from leaving or arriving at the expected time
Examples of detain
They were detained by the police for questioning.
He claimed he had been illegally detained.
Unexpected business had detained her.
Origin of detain
Middle English deteynen, from Anglo-French deteign-, stem of detenir, modification of Latin detinēre, from de- + tenēre to hold — more at thin
First Known Use: 15th century
Synonym Discussion of detain
keep, retain, detain, withhold, reserve mean to hold in one's possession or under one's control. keep may suggest a holding securely in one's possession, custody, or control <keep this while I'm gone>. retain implies continued keeping, especially against threatened seizure or forced loss <managed to retain their dignity even in poverty>. detain suggests a delay in letting go <detained them for questioning>. withhold implies restraint in letting go or a refusal to let go <withheld information from the authorities>. reserve suggests a keeping in store for future use <reserve some of your energy for the last mile>.
delay, retard, slow, slacken, detain mean to cause to be late or behind in movement or progress. delay implies a holding back, usually by interference, from completion or arrival <bad weather delayed our arrival>. retard suggests reduction of speed without actual stopping <language barriers retarded their progress>. slow and slacken also imply a reduction of speed, slow often suggesting deliberate intention <medication slowed the patient's heart rate>, slacken an easing up or relaxing of power or effort <on hot days runners slacken their pace>. detain implies a holding back beyond a reasonable or appointed time <unexpected business had detained her>.
delay, procrastinate, lag, loiter, dawdle, dally mean to move or act slowly so as to fall behind. delay usually implies a putting off (as a beginning or departure) <we cannot delay any longer>. procrastinate implies blameworthy delay especially through laziness or apathy <procrastinates about making decisions>. lag implies failure to maintain a speed set by others <lagging behind in technology>. loiter and dawdle imply delay while in progress, especially in walking, but dawdle more clearly suggests an aimless wasting of time <loitered at several store windows> <children dawdling on their way home from school>. dally suggests delay through trifling or vacillation when promptness is necessary <stop dallying and get to work>.
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