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

Many Brazilians were so disgusted with the choices that 40 million people refused to pick any candidate at all, either casting blank votes or abstaining, some flouting the country’s compulsory voting rules. Samantha Pearson And Luciana Magalhaes, WSJ, "Brazil Voters Buck Status Quo With Rise of Right-Wing Firebrand," 8 Oct. 2018 After hours of public comments and discussion, the council voted 3-1 to approve the plan, with Mayor Matt Hall abstaining and Councilwoman Cori Schumacher opposed. Phil Diehl, sandiegouniontribune.com, "New Master Plan approved for Carlsbad's Village, Barrio," 11 July 2018 Arnold City Council approved the motion in a 4-0 vote Tuesday night, with Mayor Karen Peconi abstaining. CBS News, "City seeks mayor's removal over comments suggesting protesters be hit with water cannons," 11 July 2018 The board approved the higher fees as proposed by a 4-0 vote, with board member Sean Conboy abstaining. Kimberly Fornek, chicagotribune.com, "Water rates, vehicle stickers and building permits to rise in Indian Head Park," 23 Apr. 2018 Still, Bolsonaro’s voters were more supportive of democracy than those who planned to abstain or spoil their ballots. Amy Erica Smith, Mollie Cohen, Matthew Layton, Vox, "Did Brazilians vote against democracy on Sunday?," 30 Oct. 2018 The four bidding nations were not permitted to vote, while the federations of Guan, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands chose to abstain. SI.com, "USA, Mexico & Canada Confirmed as Joint Host Nations for 2026 FIFA World Cup," 13 June 2018 Free bleeding is when someone on their period intentionally abstains from using traditional period products like pads, tampons, liners, etc. Hannah Dylan Pasternak, SELF, "I Tried Free Bleeding in Period-Proof Running Shorts," 30 Oct. 2018 Many studies have shown that people who drink any kind of alcohol in moderation — wine, beer, spirits — have lower rates of heart disease than people who abstain or who drink heavily. Joel Achenbach, The Seattle Times, "A huge clinical trial collapses, and research on alcohol remains befuddling," 6 Aug. 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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Last Updated

13 Dec 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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to make faulty or ineffective

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