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

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from constrain

constrainedly \ kən-​ˈstrā-​nəd-​lē How to pronounce constrainedly (audio) , -​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 This right to earn seigniorage, as it is called, is worth a lot, even if their money-printing is constrained by the need to keep inflation in check. The Economist, "Narendra Modi’s government dips into central-bank reserves," 29 Aug. 2019 China holds its own film awards, known as the Golden Rooster, but their influence is constrained by the strong ideological controls on the arts exerted by the ruling Communist Party that largely bar darker or alternative lifestyle themes. Washington Post, "China bans movies, actors from prominent Taiwan film awards," 7 Aug. 2019 Beto, who on the debate stage often looks constrained by his necktie, was in a blue Oxford shirt, open at the neck, and Amy was wearing a sleeveless blouse and fluted black skirt. Benjamin Wallace-wells, The New Yorker, "How Beto O’Rourke and Julián Castro Respond to Trump’s War on Immigrants," 7 Aug. 2019 In fact, the research concluded, some of these households actually do have enough money in savings, but many feel constrained by credit card debt and other bills. Susan Tompor, Detroit Free Press, "Why are so many unable to cover a $400 emergency?," 18 July 2019 Edin and Shaefer have consistently pushed back on this view, emphasizing that there’s a difference between enjoying the flexibility that comes with cash, and being constrained by in-kind benefits like food stamps. Dylan Matthews, Vox, "How many Americans live on $2 a day? The biggest debate in poverty research, explained.," 5 June 2019 Money managers have stepped in to fill a void created after banks constrained by post-crisis regulations retrenched from lending to riskier small and midsize companies., "Sun Life Plots Private Debt Growth Via Acquisition This Year," 25 Apr. 2018 The information that reaches the visual cortex is constrained by anatomy: Relatively few nerves connect the visual cortex with the outside world, which limits the amount of visual data the cortex has to work with. Quanta Magazine, "Computers and Humans ‘See’ Differently. Does It Matter?," 17 Sep. 2019 Russian exports were constrained by problems with a pipeline that delivers oil to central and eastern Europe. Charles Riley, CNN, "US briefly overtakes Saudi Arabia as the world's top oil exporter," 12 Sep. 2019

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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about constrain

Statistics for constrain

Last Updated

31 Oct 2019

Time Traveler for constrain

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

See more words from the same century

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for constrain


How to pronounce constrain (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of constrain

: to limit or restrict (something or someone)
formal : to use pressure to force (someone) to do something


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

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on constrain

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


a calculated move

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Confusing Words—A Quiz

  • alice with tweedle dee and tweedle dum
  • I invented a brand new toaster robot and ______ it "Sir Toasts-a-Lot."
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Dictionary Devil

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!