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

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 The Bills' run defense can at least contain him early and put Carson Wentz in more uncomfortable situations in the elements on the road in November. Scott Horner, The Indianapolis Star, 19 Nov. 2021 Kostadinova and Orlov are calling for more collaboration between the fusion and space research communities, which both have an interest in understanding and plasma reactions—and in developing substances that can contain them. Amit Katwala, Wired, 15 Nov. 2021 If a mysterious case of disease were to appear in a human, lab workers could sequence the virus’ genome and try to match it to a virus in the biobank, speeding up efforts to contain it. Los Angeles Times, 15 Nov. 2021 The piles of ash that might contain disintegrated batteries or pieces of asbestos that had been used in the house as flooring. Washington Post, 15 Nov. 2021 Those anxieties around issues ranging from mass shootings to bullying still exist – and now added to the mix are concerns about COVID-19 and the policies in place to contain it. Kevin P. Chavous, Forbes, 10 Nov. 2021 The Bengals are much better on defense this season, and if there’s ever a year they are built to contain Lamar Jackson, it’s this year. Baltimore Sun Staff,, 22 Oct. 2021 Lopez Obrador has been saying for months that Mexico cannot continue to simply detain migrants and try to contain them in the southern part of the country, far from the U.S. border. Arkansas Online, 9 Oct. 2021 The big spoiler keeps leaking to the point where the studios can’t contain it. Chris Smith, BGR, 5 Oct. 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.

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

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Last Updated

23 Nov 2021

Cite this Entry

“Contain.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 30 Nov. 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.

More from Merriam-Webster on contain

Nglish: Translation of contain for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of contain for Arabic Speakers


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