abstain

verb ab·stain \ əb-ˈstān , ab- \
Updated on: 12 Dec 2017

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.

abstainer

noun

abstain was our Word of the Day on 08/08/2015. Hear the podcast!

Examples of abstain in a Sentence

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

Recent Examples of abstain from the Web

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.

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.

Origin and Etymology of 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 1thin


ABSTAIN Defined for Kids

abstain

verb ab·stain \ əb-ˈstān \

Definition of abstain for Students

abstained; abstaining
: to choose not to do or have something
  • abstain from voting

abstainer

noun

Medical Dictionary

abstain

intransitive verb 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)

abstainer

noun

Law Dictionary

abstain

intransitive verb 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 proceedings
  • Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, 548 U.S. 557 (2006)


Seen and Heard

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

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!

WORD OF THE DAY

of very fine texture or delicate form

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Star Wars Words Quiz

  • cu-jedi-training
  • The bounty portion of bounty hunters (such as Boba Fett) comes from a Latin word meaning
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!

TAKE THE QUIZ
Word Winder's CrossWinder

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

TAKE THE QUIZ

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!