verb con·tain \ kən-ˈtān \
|Updated on: 15 Aug 2018

Definition of contain

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


play \kən-ˈtā-nə-bəl\ adjective

Examples of contain in a Sentence

  1. The room was barely big enough to contain everyone who came to the meeting.

  2. The book contains over 200 recipes.

  3. The article contains information on how to plan your retirement.

  4. foods that contain a high level of fat

  5. The movie contains something for both children and adults.

  6. State health officials have succeeded in containing the virus.

Recent Examples of contain from the Web

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

Origin and Etymology of contain

Middle English conteinen, from Anglo-French cunteign-, cuntyen-, stem of cuntenir, from Latin continēre to hold together, hold in, contain, from com- + tenēre to hold — more at thin

Synonym Discussion of 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

CONTAIN Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of contain for English Language Learners

  • : to have (something) inside

  • : to have or include (something)

  • : to keep (something) from spreading : to keep (something) within limits

CONTAIN Defined for Kids


verb con·tain \ kən-ˈtān \

Definition of contain for Students

contained; containing
1 : to have within : hold
  • The box contained some old books.
2 : to consist of or include
  • The building contains classrooms.
3 : to keep within limits : restrain, check
  • The fire was contained.
  • I tried to contain my anger.

Word Root of contain

The Latin words tenēre, meaning “to hold,” gives us the roots ten and tain. Words from the Latin tenēre have something to do with holding. Something tenacious holds on and is not easily gotten rid of. To contain is to hold things together inside. To obtain is to get hold of. To retain is to continue to hold.

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