abstain

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

To say Trump and the spy chiefs who criticize him are morally equivalent is to abstain from one of the crucial questions convulsing the very stressed American political system: Who will control the secret agencies? Jefferson Morley, The New Republic, "Democrats Are Trapped in Trump’s “Deep State” War," 16 Sep. 2019 But Cynthia McClain-Hill voted no, and Susana Reyes, a recent Garcetti appointee, abstained. Los Angeles Times, "Los Angeles has lined up record-cheap solar power. But there’s a problem," 27 Aug. 2019 Twenty-three countries voted to support the proposal, and 18 abstained. National Geographic, "Elephant ivory trade talks heat up in Geneva," 23 Aug. 2019 Spanish lawmakers voted 176 to 2 in favor of the exhumation of Franco from a shrine-like monument in the mountains encircling Madrid; 165 lawmakers abstained. Jeannette Neumann, WSJ, "Spain’s Parliament Approves Exhumation of Franco," 13 Sep. 2018 The volunteers would have been randomly assigned into two groups, one that consumed a single alcoholic drink every day for six years and one that abstained from alcohol every day for six years. Joel Achenbach, The Seattle Times, "A huge clinical trial collapses, and research on alcohol remains befuddling," 6 Aug. 2018 Hawkins abstained from that vote because of a conflict of interest — his family receives royalties from past connections to a landfill company, the Osceola News-Gazette reported — but has said the ash is safe and non-hazardous. Steven Lemongello, orlandosentinel.com, "In a video, Rep. Mike La Rosa offers ‘support’ of Fred Hawkins. He says that is not an endorsement.," 12 Sep. 2019 More than a dozen Democrats voted no or abstained from the measure, and no Republicans voted in favor. Los Angeles Times, "California tenants will see cap on rent increases under bill sent to Newsom," 11 Sep. 2019 The prime minister needed the support of two-thirds of the 650 lawmakers in the House of Commons to trigger an election — a total of 434 — but got just 298, with 56 voting 'no' and the rest abstaining. Greg Norman | Fox News, Fox News, "Boris Johnson's brother quits Parliament over Brexit impasse as prime minister accuses opposition of ‘cowardly insult to democracy’," 6 Sep. 2019

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, occupy, possess" — more at tenant entry 1

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Last Updated

18 Oct 2019

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

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More Definitions for abstain

abstain

verb
ab·​stain | \ əb-ˈstān How to pronounce abstain (audio) \
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- How to pronounce abstain (audio) \

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- How to pronounce abstain (audio) \

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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