Definition of abstain
- abstain from drinking
- Ten members voted for the proposal, six members voted against it, and two abstained.
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Ten members voted for the proposal, six members voted against it, and two abstained.
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.
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.
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