ab·​stain | \ əb-ˈstān , 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

Participants must abstain from mood- or mind-altering substances or risk termination from the program. Leah Allen, The Seattle Times, "Testing positive for kratom presents risks for people in Skagit County drug court," 21 July 2018 York abstained from the Wednesday NFL owners' vote on a new national anthem policy that removes a requirement for players to be on the field for the anthem, and gives players the option to stay in the locker room. Charlotte Carroll, SI.com, "49ers Owner Doesn't Think Team Should Profit During National Anthem," 23 May 2018 As expected, the four lawmakers of a far-left party, the Popular Unity Candidacy, abstained from the voting. New York Times, "Catalan Parliament Elects New Leader, a Separatist Not Under Indictment," 14 May 2018 The Left Party, Liberals and Center Party were all expected to abstain from voting Friday, as had been disclosed earlier in the week. Dominic Chopping, WSJ, "Swedish Prime Minister Regains Power as New Political Landscape Beckons," 18 Jan. 2019 At least one team, the San Francisco 49ers, abstained from voting, and the NFL Players Assn. latimes.com, "Today: Inside the Mexican Mafia," 24 May 2018 Jed York of the 49ers abstained in the vote, according to NFL Media’s Jim Trotter, a move that 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman said carried great respect with the players. Matthew Futterman, New York Times, "Trump Supports N.F.L.’s New National Anthem Policy," 23 May 2018 Two members abstained from the vote and three were absent. Allison Kite, kansascity, "Newspaper booted from press corps over publisher's $50k payment in Greitens case | The Kansas City Star," 14 May 2018 One lawmaker abstained and another was away on sick leave. Rod Mcguirk, Fox News, "Australian ministers resign after leader survives challenge," 21 Aug. 2018

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" — more at thin entry 1

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22 Feb 2019

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

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More Definitions for abstain


ab·​stain | \ əb-ˈstān \
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- \

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- \

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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a servile follower or underling

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