con·​tain kən-ˈtān How to pronounce contain (audio)
contained; containing; contains

transitive verb

: to keep within limits: such as
: restrain, control
could hardly contain her enthusiasm
: check, halt
contain the spread of a deadly disease
Firefighters contained the wildfire.
: to follow successfully a policy of containment toward
efforts to contain Communism
: to prevent (an enemy or opponent) from advancing or from making a successful attack
: to have within : hold
The box contains old letters.
: comprise, include
The bill contains several new clauses.
: to be divisible by usually without a remainder

intransitive verb

: to restrain oneself
containable adjective
Choose the Right Synonym for contain

contain, hold, accommodate mean to have or be capable of having within.

contain implies the actual presence of a specified substance or quantity within something.

the can contains a quart of oil

hold implies the capacity of containing or the usual or permanent function of containing or keeping.

the bookcase will hold all my textbooks

accommodate stresses holding without crowding or inconvenience.

the hall can accommodate 500 people

Examples of contain in a Sentence

The room was barely big enough to contain everyone who came to the meeting. The book contains over 200 recipes. The article contains information on how to plan your retirement. foods that contain a high level of fat The movie contains something for both children and adults. State health officials have succeeded in containing the virus. See More
Recent Examples on the Web The city plans to take on more than $22 million in transportation projects along the corridor, which contains College Avenue, Nelson Hackett Boulevard and South School Avenue. Stacy Ryburn,, 6 Dec. 2023 The upload contained two photos of the small white dog. Angel Saunders, Peoplemag, 6 Dec. 2023 Sweeteners, sugary syrups and even some plant milks contain additives that can inflame the gut and the brain, undoing all the hard work. Georgia Day, Vogue, 5 Dec. 2023 Reports for previous years also contain apparent inaccuracies and sometimes conflict with OpenAI’s disclosures to US tax authorities at the IRS. Paresh Dave, WIRED, 5 Dec. 2023 High levels of caffeine and sugar A large, 30-ounce Mango Yuzu Citrus Charged Lemonade contains 390 milligrams of caffeine and 124 grams of sugar, according to the suits filed against the company, as well as to an ingredient list posted on the company's website. Kate Gibson, CBS News, 5 Dec. 2023 Viewers would enter a chamber containing a three-hundred-and-sixty-degree view of an enormous painting, usually one that glorified military conquests by rendering them into one unbroken landscape. Dennis Zhou, The New Yorker, 4 Dec. 2023 The statement said 200 trucks containing medical supplies would be brought into the enclave on a daily basis, along with four trucks containing fuel and cooking gas. NBC News, 24 Nov. 2023 The videos show bathrooms and smaller rooms containing metal cots and an air conditioning unit but little concrete evidence to indicate what they were used for. Democrat-Gazette Staff From Wire Reports,, 24 Nov. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'contain.' 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 conteynen, borrowed from Anglo-French cunteign-, cunteyn-, present tense stem of contenir, cuntenir, going back (with conjugation change) to Latin continēre "to hold together, restrain, have as contents," from con- con- + tenēre "to hold, occupy, possess" — more at tenant entry 1

First Known Use

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

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

Dictionary Entries Near contain

Cite this Entry

“Contain.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 10 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


con·​tain kən-ˈtān How to pronounce contain (audio)
: to keep within limits : restrain, check
tried to contain my laughter
the forest fire was finally contained
: to have within
: to consist of : include
: to be divisible by especially without a remainder
20 contains 5

More from Merriam-Webster on contain

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
Love words? Need even more definitions?

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