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

Example Sentences

constrained by conscience to tell only the truth constrained his anger at the needless interruption
Recent Examples on the Web The debt limit does not constrain these perpetual bonds since no principal repayment is required. Bill Stone, Forbes, 22 Jan. 2023 Guys with thicker thighs will love it more because its smooth feel hugs the muscles but doesn't cling in an uncomfortable way, and the seams on the legs won’t constrain. Christian Gollayan, Men's Health, 14 Nov. 2022 The access to information, the changes in attitudes, the really entrenchment of the markets into North Korea, despite the regime's efforts to constrain them and roll them back. CBS News, 9 Nov. 2022 With less than a week until Election Day, a new economic report showed the strength of the job market despite policymakers’ efforts to constrain it in their fight against inflation. Sydney Ember, New York Times, 4 Nov. 2022 Hublot stands ripe for adventure, uniquely unbound by traditions that might constrain it to an identity forged in a bygone era. Carol Besler, Robb Report, 17 Oct. 2022 The tricksiness of the finale, however, does somewhat undercut the seriousness of the film’s more intriguing ideas about how a prison made of concrete can never so comprehensively constrain us as the prisons of the body and the mind. Jessica Kiang, Variety, 8 Sep. 2022 Kim Kardashian has clearly never felt the need to constrain herself to a single career path or income stream. Kathleen Walsh, Glamour, 7 July 2022 The neoliberal credo claims that markets work efficiently and that government attempts to constrain them via regulation and public spending invariably fail, backfire, or are corrupted by politics. Robert Kuttner, The New York Review of Books, 6 July 2022 See More

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.

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 9 Feb. 2023.

Kids Definition


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

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