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

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from contain

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

Synonyms for contain


Visit the Thesaurus for More 

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 Backlash has been primarily focused on the president's efforts to contain a record surge of unaccompanied migrant children as experts estimate 117,000 solo minors will make their way into the country by the conclusion of the year. Jake Dima, Washington Examiner, "Border Patrol video shows smugglers drop two young girls over 14-foot barrier," 1 Apr. 2021 Efforts to contain the Japanese beetle could save the state millions of dollars. Karina Andrew, The Salt Lake Tribune, "Utah moves against invasive insect population," 31 Mar. 2021 The Secretary of State’s conclusions are a striking repudiation of health officials’ efforts to contain outbreaks in March and April of last year. oregonlive, "Oregon could have prevented some coronavirus deaths in senior care, auditors say," 24 Mar. 2021 The Czech Republic, Hungary, Serbia and other countries in the region lifted pandemic restrictions last summer after successful initial efforts to contain the virus. New York Times, "20,000 White Crosses: Marking Covid’s Toll in Central and Eastern Europe," 23 Mar. 2021 And as Americans look back, a majority see the nation's efforts to contain the coronavirus as largely unsuccessful. Fred Backus, CBS News, "After year of pandemic, Americans see changed lives and disparate impact — CBS News poll," 14 Mar. 2021 Garrett Webb, representing the Missouri chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, told members of the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee the bill would hamper efforts to contain deadly diseases. From Usa Today Network And Wire Reports, USA TODAY, "Relaxing restrictions, Food Night, mass vaccine sites: News from around our 50 states," 11 Mar. 2021 For now, Brazil's failure to contain the virus is increasingly a cautionary tale for the world. Flora Charner And Marcia Reverdosa, CNN, "Brazil plunges into crisis as a second wave and deadly new variant overwhelm hospitals," 10 Mar. 2021 Although domestic economic imbalances and U.S. efforts to contain China remain serious risks, overall, there are more opportunities than challenges, said Mr. Chen, who urged officials to unite their thoughts and actions around Mr. Xi’s leadership. Chun Han Wong, WSJ, "China Plays Up Ascendancy Over West as It Sets Economic Path," 4 Mar. 2021

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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about contain

Time Traveler for contain

Time Traveler

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

See more words from the same century

Statistics for contain

Last Updated

9 Apr 2021

Cite this Entry

“Contain.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 10 Apr. 2021.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

Keep scrolling for more

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.

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on contain

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


Test Your Vocabulary

The Exceptions Quiz III

  • one green toy robot amidst many red toy robots
  • Which of these words does not mean "nonsense"?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

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