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
b : enclose, bound

intransitive verb

: to restrain oneself

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Other Words from contain

containable \ kən-​ˈtā-​nə-​bəl How to pronounce contain (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 Unlike his predecessor, Mr. Biden has made face coverings a key component of his plan to contain the pandemic. New York Times, "Can’t Find an N95 Mask? This Company Has 30 Million That It Can’t Sell.," 10 Feb. 2021 But the city and families of some of the deceased have complained that the nursing home should never have organized the party when restrictive measures on events were in place throughout the country to contain the pandemic. Raf Casert, ajc, "Belgian St. Nick party for elderly leads to 27 virus deaths," 1 Jan. 2021 But the city and families of some of the deceased have complained that the nursing home should never have organized the party when restrictive measures on events were in place throughout the country to contain the pandemic. NBC News, "Belgian St. Nick party for elderly leads to 27 coronavirus deaths," 1 Jan. 2021 Bitter nail lacquers that contain unpleasant-tasting compounds, as well as nail coverings like band-aids or gloves, can help lessen nail-biting, according to Dana Stern, a Mount Sinai dermatology professor who specializes in treating nail disorders. Cezary Podkul, WSJ, "How to Stop Biting Your Nails—a Potential Treatment Offers Promise," 28 Dec. 2020 States and local governments have tried different strategies to contain the pandemic for months, including shutting down businesses and having people work from home. Dezimey Kum, Time, "Fueled by a History of Mistreatment, Black Americans Distrust the New COVID-19 Vaccines," 28 Dec. 2020 Inoculating those most likely to spread it — people who live or work in close quarters, for example — may do much more to contain the pandemic than vaccinating people who live in relative seclusion. Los Angeles Times, "Can COVID-19 vaccines get us to herd immunity? ‘The jury is definitely still out’," 26 Dec. 2020 But Monday's moment of hope also coincided with a tragic reminder of America's failure to contain the pandemic so far: Even as those first vaccinations were performed, the United States recorded its 300,000th death from Covid-19. Stephen Collinson, CNN, "Biden's most forceful attempt yet to create the symbolism of a peaceful transfer of power," 15 Dec. 2020 Just two weeks ago, South Korea raised the social-distancing level to 2 from 1.5 in the greater Seoul area, limiting restaurant hours and social gatherings, as the surge in cases threatened to undermine efforts to contain the pandemic. Jeong-ho Lee,, "South Korea May Tighten Curbs as Virus Cases Hit Nine-Month High," 6 Dec. 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

20 Feb 2021

Cite this Entry

“Contain.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 Feb. 2021.

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More Definitions for contain



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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