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

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from contain

containable \ kən-​ˈtā-​nə-​bəl How to pronounce containable (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 Another source of dollars down the drain, according to the water company? Pump- and valve-containing units, such as the water softener and the swimming pool. Washington Post, "Hints From Heloise: A drive for school safety," 17 Sep. 2019 The old logic dictated that each episode of a series be self-contained. Adam Wilson, Harper's magazine, "Good Bad Bad Good," 16 Sep. 2019 Dr Fox says the diagnosis was lipoid pneumonia, a rare non-infectious condition that occurs when oils or lipid-containing substances enter the lungs. The Economist, "A deadly outbreak casts a dark cloud over e-cigarettes," 14 Sep. 2019 Many of the cases (but not all) also link to THC-containing products. Beth Mole, Ars Technica, "Black-market THC-vape operation busted in Wisconsin, police say," 12 Sep. 2019 New York health officials said last week that extremely high levels of the chemical vitamin E acetate were found in nearly all cannabis-containing vaping products that were analyzed as part of the investigation. Jacqueline Howard, CNN, "After vaping-related illness, teen now has lungs like 'a 70-year-old's'," 11 Sep. 2019 But for all that’s going on, Phillips’ viewpoint is often feverishly interior and self-contained; a narrative stricture that serves the purpose, perhaps, of allowing viewer into the nightmarish, nonlinear world Arthur’s tortured mind occupies. Leah Greenblatt,, "Joaquin Phoenix’s captivating, unsettling Joker is no laughing matter," 10 Sep. 2019 Zucker said that Wadsworth Center, New York State's public health laboratory, was currently testing both cannabis and nicotine-containing vape products received from people who reported feeling ill. NBC News, "New York governor urges halt to all vaping amid lung disease outbreak," 8 Sep. 2019 All the patients used at least one cannabis-containing device before becoming ill, but reported using other vaping products as well. Fox News, "Vitamin E acetate in marijuana vaping devices possibly linked to deadly lung illnesses, officials say," 7 Sep. 2019

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

Statistics for contain

Last Updated

24 Oct 2019

Time Traveler for contain

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

See more words from the same century

Keep scrolling for more

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.

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on contain

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for contain

Spanish Central: Translation of contain

Nglish: Translation of contain for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of contain for Arabic Speakers

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).


concealed or difficult to comprehend

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Pass the Little Ribbons: A Pasta Word Quiz

  • rotelle pasta
  • Match the pasta to its meaning in English: Rotelle
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Add Diction

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

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