con·​strain | \ kən-ˈstrān \
constrained; constraining; constrains

Definition of constrain

transitive verb

1a : 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

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Other Words from constrain

constrainedly \ kən-​ˈstrā-​nəd-​lē , -​ˈstrānd-​lē \ adverb

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

One question is whether the government will treat the estimated 345,000 workers as a cap that could artificially constrain demand for labor. The Editorial Board, WSJ, "Japan’s Immigration Harbinger," 5 Dec. 2018 Talks on a code that would belatedly constrain such activities have made slow progress. Annabelle Liang, The Seattle Times, "China’s premier reassures region on growth, South China Sea," 13 Nov. 2018 Elliott said through a spokesman on Wednesday that such negotiations would be the responsibility of Mayor Kevin Faulconer, not her, and that the city would be severely constrained in such talks by the binding wording of the ballot measures. David Garrick,, "Detailed pacts sought before Mission Valley ballot measures go to voters," 16 May 2018 But government officials have limited time, constrained budgets, and a host of competing priorities vying for their attention. Meagan Neal, Vox, "It’s hard to design good policies. This simple idea can help governments do it.," 21 Dec. 2018 Michael Lustig New York The law constrains the actions of trustees and other fiduciaries who must invest for the exclusive benefit of the beneficiaries, without regard to collateral benefits. WSJ, "On Good Investing vs. Investing for the Good," 16 Dec. 2018 The treaty helps protect the security of the U.S. and its allies in Europe and the Far East, but has constrained the U.S. from developing new weapons. Fox News, "Bolton faces tense talks with Russia over nuclear treaty," 22 Oct. 2018 But instead of single-mindedly constraining the river at the expense of its ecology, sediment diversions strategically allow the river to act naturally. Nate Berg, Curbed, "Can engineering save Louisiana’s coastline?," 7 Nov. 2018 That is the through-line from slavery’s origins in the 17th century to its echoes here in the 21st: an imperative to regulate, manage, and constrain every aspect of black life. Rochelle Riley, Detroit Free Press, "Riley: Slavery is still America's burden," 25 Feb. 2018

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.

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First Known Use of constrain

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

History and Etymology for constrain

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

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Statistics for constrain

Last Updated

10 Jan 2019

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Time Traveler for constrain

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

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More Definitions for constrain



English Language Learners Definition of constrain

: to limit or restrict (something or someone)

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


con·​strain | \ kən-ˈstrān \
constrained; constraining

Kids Definition of constrain

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

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Comments on constrain

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