con·​strain kən-ˈstrān How to pronounce constrain (audio)
constrained; constraining; constrains

transitive verb

: to force by imposed stricture, restriction, or limitation
Teenagers often feel constrained by rules.
an artist constrained by a client's requirements
: to restrict the motion of (a mechanical body) to a particular mode
: compress
also : to clasp tightly
: to secure by or as if by bonds : confine
constrained to a dungeon
broadly : limit
: to force or produce in an unnatural or strained manner
a constrained smile
: to hold back by or as if by force
" … constraining my mind not to wander from the task."Charles Dickens
kən-ˈstrā-nəd-lē How to pronounce constrain (audio)
Choose the Right Synonym for constrain

force, compel, coerce, constrain, oblige mean to make someone or something yield.

force is the general term and implies the overcoming of resistance by the exertion of strength, power, or duress.

forced to flee for their lives

compel typically suggests overcoming of resistance or unwillingness by an irresistible force.

compelled to admit my mistake

coerce suggests overcoming resistance or unwillingness by actual or threatened violence or pressure.

coerced into signing over the rights

constrain suggests the effect of a force or circumstance that limits freedom of action or choice.

constrained by conscience

oblige implies the constraint of necessity, law, or duty.

felt obliged to go

Examples of constrain in a Sentence

constrained by conscience to tell only the truth constrained his anger at the needless interruption
Recent Examples on the Web But ever since then, the San Diego Ethics Commission has been constrained by some of the very rules and practices that were written into its governing documents back in 2001. Jeff McDonald, San Diego Union-Tribune, 27 May 2024 The accuracy of the simulation and replica armor was constrained by scholarly knowledge of the Late Bronze Age and ethical concerns for the participants’ safety, the study said. Aspen Pflughoeft, Miami Herald, 23 May 2024 Biden has struggled to balance his support for Israel after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack — the deadliest day for Jews worldwide since the Holocaust — with his efforts to constrain its war on the militant group in Gaza. Zeke Miller, Fortune, 7 May 2024 Instead, only the U.S. Constitution could constrain state legislatures – and only federal courts, including the Supreme Court, could review these decisions. Morgan Marietta, The Conversation, 30 Sep. 2022 See all Example Sentences for constrain 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'constrain.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Middle English, from Anglo-French constraindre, from Latin constringere to constrict, constrain, from com- + stringere to draw tight — more at strain

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Time Traveler
The first known use of constrain was in the 14th century

Dictionary Entries Near constrain

Cite this Entry

“Constrain.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 13 Jun. 2024.

Kids Definition


con·​strain kən-ˈstrān How to pronounce constrain (audio)

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