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

The resolution passed by a vote of 87 in favor, 29 against and 25 abstaining. Washington Post, "Countries agree to limit sales of elephants to zoos," 27 Aug. 2019 Since Dowdle abstained from voting, it was recorded as a negative vote, according to the city charter. Roy Kent, Houston Chronicle, "THIS WEEK: City Council expected to address divisive mayor pro tem issue again," 21 July 2019 The ordinance passed 6-0-1, with District 3 Councilwoman Denise Brown abstaining. USA TODAY, "Saving whales, Manson murder house: News from around our 50 states," 17 July 2019 The board urged shareholders to vote against the Amnesty International proposal, though Brin abstained from voting. Klint Finley, WIRED, "Google's Troubles Encroach on Alphabet's Shareholder Meeting," 19 June 2019 The March of Dimes also notes multiple pregnancies (of twins, triplets, or more) might also be a reason to abstain, as well as having had miscarriages in the past. Kaitlin Stanford, Woman's Day, "How to Safely Have Sex During Pregnancy," 18 Apr. 2019 Booming plant business While abstaining from animal products was practiced in ancient societies such as Greece and India, the word vegan is traced to 1944, when the U.K. Vegan Society was founded. Sara Miller Llana, The Christian Science Monitor, "Pass the tofu: How eating vegan became a billion-dollar business," 29 Mar. 2019 But observers will be looking to see how many delegates abstain from voting as an indication of resistance within the political establishment. Austin Ramzy, BostonGlobe.com, "Hong Kong’s democracy movement fears new setback in legislative vote," 10 Mar. 2018 But the agency abstained from pursuing even greater punishments like a substantially larger fine and finding CEO Mark Zuckerberg personally liable. Makena Kelly, The Verge, "FTC hits Facebook with $5 billion fine and new privacy checks," 24 July 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

17 Sep 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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