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

Definition of contain

transitive verb

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
2a : to have within : hold The box contains old letters.
b : comprise, include The bill contains several new clauses.
3a : to be divisible by usually without a remainder

intransitive verb

: to restrain oneself

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Other Words from contain

containable \ kən-​ˈtā-​nə-​bəl How to pronounce containable (audio) \ adjective

Synonyms for contain


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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.
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Recent Examples on the Web States across the country are doing their best to protect families, frontline workers and small businesses, but the president's carelessness has impeded our ability to contain this virus and respond to its impacts. Gretchen Whitmer For Cnn Business Perspectives, CNN, "Gretchen Whitmer: Congress, it's time to act on stimulus. Here's what we need most," 17 Sep. 2020 The Navajo Nation itself instituted strict health mandates such as mask wearing, stay-at-home orders and weekend lockdowns to contain the virus. Christie Aschwanden, Scientific American, "How New Mexico Controlled the Spread of COVID-19," 15 Sep. 2020 Many countries around the world, from Germany to South Korea to Singapore to Vietnam, have used these techniques to contain the virus. Stephen Engelberg, ProPublica, "America Is About to Lose Its 200,000th Life to Coronavirus. How Many More Have to Die?," 14 Sep. 2020 New York was once the epicenters of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States, but the city has drastically reduced its number of active cases after months of strict measures to contain the virus. Jodi Guglielmi,, "How the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Will Work During the COVID-19 Pandemic," 14 Sep. 2020 Universities have put in place extensive guidelines to contain the virus after deciding to at least partially reopen. Erin Corbett,, "Thousands Of College Students Tested Positive For COVID-19. Then They Threw A Party.," 11 Sep. 2020 The potential for a real crisis could depend a lot on whether Congress passes another COVID economic-relief bill — prospects of which are dim — and the performance of the overall economy and efforts to contain the virus over the next several months. John Mccormack, National Review, "The CDC’s Power Grab," 11 Sep. 2020 Like its peers across the country, UCF has struggled to contain the virus and enforce social distancing policies as students have returned to campus for the first time since mid-March. Annie Martin,, "Protests against gun rights activist erupt at UCF; school suspends groups for violating social distancing policies," 10 Sep. 2020 Even with such spread, the country doesn’t appear to have the appetite for further restrictions after months of country-wide lockdowns in March and April failed to contain the virus and led to a record 24% contraction of India’s economy. Fortune, "How Trump’s TikTok ban pushed China’s most independent tech billionaire closer to Beijing," 10 Sep. 2020

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.

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First Known Use of contain

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

History and Etymology for contain

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

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Time Traveler for contain

Time Traveler

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

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Last Updated

23 Sep 2020

Cite this Entry

“Contain.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 Sep. 2020.

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More Definitions for contain


How to pronounce contain (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of contain

: to have (something) inside
: to have or include (something)
: to keep (something) from spreading : to keep (something) within limits


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

Kids Definition of contain

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.

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