verb con·strain \ kən-ˈstrān \
|Updated on: 8 Aug 2018

Definition of constrain

constrained; constraining; constrains
1 a : to force by imposed stricture, restriction, or limitation
  • Teenagers often feel constrained by rules.
  • an artist constrained by a client's requirements
b : to restrict the motion of (a mechanical body) to a particular mode
2 : compress; also : to clasp tightly
3 : to secure by or as if by bonds : confine
  • constrained to a dungeon
; broadly : limit
4 : to force or produce in an unnatural or strained manner
  • a constrained smile
5 : to hold back by or as if by force
  • " … constraining my mind not to wander from the task."
  • —Charles Dickens


play \kən-ˈstrā-nəd-lē, -ˈstrānd-lē\ adverb

Examples of constrain in a Sentence

  1. constrained by conscience to tell only the truth

  2. constrained his anger at the needless interruption

Recent Examples of constrain from the Web

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'constrain.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Origin and Etymology of constrain

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

Synonym Discussion of 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

CONSTRAIN Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of constrain for English Language Learners

  • : to limit or restrict (something or someone)

  • : to use pressure to force (someone) to do something

CONSTRAIN Defined for Kids


verb con·strain \ kən-ˈstrān \

Definition of constrain for Students

constrained; constraining
1 : compel 1, force
  • He was constrained to retire because of ill health.
2 : to restrict or limit
  • She felt the rules constrained her creativity.

Seen and Heard

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

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!


to oppose successfully

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Difficult Spelling Words Quiz

  • alphabet-pasta-spelling-help
  • Which is the correct spelling?
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!


Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.


Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!