ab·stain | \əb-ˈstān, ab-\
abstained; abstaining; abstains

Definition of abstain 

intransitive verb

1 : to choose not to do or have something : to refrain deliberately and often with an effort of self-denial from an action or practice abstain from drinking

2 : to choose not to vote Ten members voted for the proposal, six members voted against it, and two abstained.

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Other Words from abstain

abstainer noun

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.

Examples of abstain in a Sentence

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

Recent Examples on the Web

Commissioner Paul May, who serves on the school district’s facilities committee, abstained from voting. Steve Schering, chicagotribune.com, "Oak Park Plan Commission backs land transfer to District 97 as part of Holmes expansion," 9 July 2018 Many opposition parties had been barred from running against him, and more voters abstained than cast ballots in the election, which critics had said would be rigged in the president’s favor. New York Times, "As Trump Adds Sanctions on Venezuela, Its Neighbors Reject Election Result," 21 May 2018 Muslims must abstain from all eating, drinking or smoking from dawn to dusk each day for the entire lunar month, around 30 days. Aya Batrawy, Fox News, "A look at the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan," 17 May 2018 That’s because The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints operates the center, and Mormons abstain from alcohol. Arthur Levine, USA TODAY, "Polynesian Cultural Center: Explore the history of Hawaii and five more islands," 12 Apr. 2018 Half of the participants will abstain from hooch, while the rest will imbibe one serving a day. Beth Mole, Ars Technica, "“I don’t f—ing care”: In wooing $67M from big alcohol, NIH nixed critical study," 3 Apr. 2018 Six members abstained, reflecting what diplomats called concerns that the step might impede efforts by other African nations to revive South Sudan peace negotiations. New York Times, "U.N. Imposes Arms Embargo on South Sudan as Atrocities Go Unabated," 13 July 2018 Board chairman Mark Feidler, for whom there were several calls against re-election in the run up to the meeting, received about 64% of the votes tallied in favor of re-election with about 35.5% voting against him and a tiny share abstaining. Annamaria Andriotis, WSJ, "Equifax Directors Win Re-Election, Despite Concerns About Breach," 3 May 2018 All other Republicans abstained, citing a lack of information about the reason for the vote. Ryan Martin, Indianapolis Star, "Indianapolis Democrats find unity in move to oust Stephen Clay as council president," 29 Jan. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'abstain.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of abstain

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for abstain

Middle English absteinen, abstenen, borrowed from Anglo-French asteign-, absteign-, stem of astenir, abstenir, borrowed (with conjugation change, conformed to tenir) from Latin abstinēre "to keep from, hold back, refrain, withhold oneself from," from abs- (variant of ab- ab- before c- and t-) + tenēre "to hold" — more at thin entry 1

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4 Oct 2018

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The first known use of abstain was in the 14th century

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More Definitions for abstain


ab·stain | \əb-ˈstān \
abstained; abstaining

Kids Definition of abstain

: to choose not to do or have something abstain from voting

Other Words from abstain

abstainer noun
ab·stain | \əb-ˈstān, ab- \

Medical Definition of abstain 

: 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)

Other Words from abstain

abstainer noun
ab·stain | \əb-ˈstān, ab- \

Legal Definition of abstain 

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

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More from Merriam-Webster on abstain

Spanish Central: Translation of abstain

Nglish: Translation of abstain for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of abstain for Arabic Speakers

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