ab·​sti·​nence | \ ˈab-stə-nən(t)s How to pronounce abstinence (audio) \

Definition of abstinence

1 : the practice of abstaining from something : the practice of not doing or having something that is wanted or enjoyable … ate with a haste and an apparent relish, that seemed to betoken long abstinence from food.— Walter Scott
2a : habitual abstaining from intoxicating beverages
b : abstention from sexual intercourse

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Other Words from abstinence

abstinent \ ˈab-​stə-​nənt How to pronounce abstinence (audio) \ adjective
abstinently adverb

Examples of abstinence in a Sentence

The program promoted sexual abstinence for young people. a cleric vainly preaching abstinence in a world where self-indulgence is regarded as almost a virtue
Recent Examples on the Web The abstinence-only approach has backfired for some families, Whipple said. Bethany Rodgers, The Salt Lake Tribune, 31 Aug. 2021 Compassion, care, and support need to extend to those still using drugs and those who return to drug use, not just to those who can satisfy the stringent standards of abstinence. Nora D. Volkow, Scientific American, 31 Aug. 2021 Federally, $110 million each year is spent on education that only covers abstinence, says Leah Keller, a policy manager at the Guttmacher Institute. Molly Longman, refinery29.com, 26 July 2021 During Prohibition, abstinence was sold on the idea of freedom—not freedom to drink, but freedom from the temptation to drink. John Patrick Leary, The New Republic, 6 Aug. 2021 The school systems that preached abstinence instead of teaching these facts did us a huge disservice. Jenny Singer, Glamour, 6 Aug. 2021 Also, someone really needs to hand this woman a pamphlet on why abstinence-only education is a terrible idea. Maggie Fremont, Vulture, 29 July 2021 The idea is to embrace users and nudge them toward social functioning, even toward abstinence—but on the client’s time line. Sally Satel, WSJ, 21 July 2021 Even Texas, a state long associated with abstinence-only education at the middle-school level, committed last November to begin teaching students about other birth control methods, beginning next year. New York Times, 7 July 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'abstinence.' 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 abstinence

13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for abstinence

Middle English, borrowed from Anglo-French, borrowed from Latin abstinentia, noun derivative of abstinent-, abstinens, present participle of abstinēre "to abstain"

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Time Traveler for abstinence

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The first known use of abstinence was in the 13th century

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Dictionary Entries Near abstinence



abstinence syndrome

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Last Updated

15 Sep 2021

Cite this Entry

“Abstinence.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/abstinence. Accessed 26 Sep. 2021.

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More Definitions for abstinence


ab·​sti·​nence | \ ˈab-stə-nəns How to pronounce abstinence (audio) \

Kids Definition of abstinence

: an avoidance by choice especially of certain foods or of liquor


ab·​sti·​nence | \ ˈab-stə-nən(t)s How to pronounce abstinence (audio) \

Medical Definition of abstinence

: the act or practice of abstaining especially from engagement in sexual intercourse or consumption of intoxicating beverages

Other Words from abstinence

abstinent \ -​nənt How to pronounce abstinence (audio) \ adjective

More from Merriam-Webster on abstinence

Nglish: Translation of abstinence for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of abstinence for Arabic Speakers


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