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.

Keep scrolling for more

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 However, the main opposition Labour Party is likely to back the deal or abstain on the basis that failure to secure a deal would be worse, meaning any Conservative opposition is unlikely to derail U.K. ratification. Jason Douglas, WSJ, "Brexit Trade Deal Is Reached Between U.K., European Union," 24 Dec. 2020 Employees at Google have called on the company to abstain from work in the oil and gas industry, citing environmental concerns, and work with authoritarian regimes. Mark Bergen, Fortune, "Google’s Aramco deal risks irking staff over oil, Saudi politics," 21 Dec. 2020 The only person to abstain from granting the EUA on the FDA advisory panel was Michael Kurilla, MD, PhD, the director of the Division of Clinical Innovation at NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences. Molly Longman, refinery29.com, "Moderna’s COVID-19 Vaccine Gets FDA Emergency Approval One Week After Pfizer’s," 18 Dec. 2020 As for now, the designer mama hopes that the haters will abstain from her page. Kelly Corbett, House Beautiful, "Fans Stand By Erin Napier After She Received "Cruel Comments" About Her Daughter's Hair," 16 Dec. 2020 The outcome of Tuesday’s vote in Parliament, which Mr. Johnson won by 291 to 78 was never in doubt after a decision by the opposition Labour Party to abstain. New York Times, "In England, Rumbles of Discontent as Parliament Votes to Exit Lockdown," 1 Dec. 2020 On Brexit, the Labour Party is likely to either support Johnson or abstain. Joe Mayes, Bloomberg.com, "With Tories at His Back, Boris Johnson Can’t Cave in on Brexit," 12 Dec. 2020 Some experts say a harm-reduction approach to public health — educating people how to mitigate risk in their activities — would be more effective than all-or-nothing pleas to abstain from contact with other people. Julia Wick, Los Angeles Times, "Essential California Week in Review: A vaccine at the end of the tunnel," 12 Dec. 2020 The judge ordered Wright to abstain from any substance abuse. Jason Meisner, chicagotribune.com, "Chicago rapper G Herbo pleads not guilty to federal fraud charges, faces up to 6 years in prison if convicted," 9 Dec. 2020

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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about abstain

Time Traveler for abstain

Time Traveler

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

See more words from the same century

Listen to Our Podcast about abstain

Statistics for abstain

Last Updated

28 Dec 2020

Cite this Entry

“Abstain.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/abstain. Accessed 16 Jan. 2021.

Keep scrolling for more

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)

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on abstain

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

WORD OF THE DAY

Test Your Vocabulary

Words of Snow and Ice Quiz

  • image1037863653
  • Which of the following refers to thin, bending ice, or to the act of running over such ice?
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.

TAKE THE QUIZ
Typeshift

Anagram puzzles meet word search.

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!