abstain

verb

ab·​stain əb-ˈstān How to pronounce abstain (audio)
ab-
abstained; abstaining; abstains

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

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. Lucky for you, we’d never abstain from sharing a good bit of word history. Abstain traces back through Middle English and Anglo-French to the Latin verb abstinēre, which combines the prefix ab- ("from, away, off") with tenēre, a Latin verb meaning "to hold." (Spanish speakers might recognize tenēre’s influence in the Spanish verb tener, meaning "to have, hold, or take.") 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 tenant and 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 When the United States recently proposed its own resolution for a three-phase cease-fire, Russia abstained, citing a lack of details, but refrained from vetoing the text, which had received backing from the Arab world. Hanna Notte, Foreign Affairs, 15 July 2024 With the news of the A’s leaving for Sacramento, even some die-hards like Leon are abstaining from the games, refusing to support Fisher financially. Ty Daubert, The Mercury News, 12 July 2024 In 2018, 28% of college students reported abstaining from alcohol, according to Cleveland Clinic data cited by WMAR. Justin Klawans, theweek, 11 July 2024 Supervisors Kathryn Barger and Holly Mitchell, who critiqued parts of the plan throughout the meeting, abstained from voting. Rebecca Ellis, Los Angeles Times, 10 July 2024 See all Example Sentences for abstain 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'abstain.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

Etymology

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, occupy, possess" — more at tenant entry 1

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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

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Dictionary Entries Near abstain

Cite this Entry

“Abstain.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/abstain. Accessed 22 Jul. 2024.

Kids Definition

abstain

verb
ab·​stain əb-ˈstān How to pronounce abstain (audio)
: to keep oneself from doing something
abstain from voting
abstainer noun

Medical Definition

abstain

intransitive verb
ab·​stain əb-ˈstān, ab- How to pronounce abstain (audio)
: 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

Legal Definition

abstain

intransitive verb
ab·​stain əb-ˈstān, ab- How to pronounce abstain (audio)
: 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)

More from Merriam-Webster on abstain

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