de·​tain | \ di-ˈtān How to pronounce detain (audio) , dē- \
detained; detaining; detains

Definition of detain

transitive verb

1 : to hold or keep in or as if in custody detained by the police for questioning
2 obsolete : to keep back (something due) : withhold
3 : to restrain especially from proceeding was detained by a flat tire

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Other Words from detain

detainment \ di-​ˈtān-​mənt How to pronounce detainment (audio) , dē-​ \ noun

Choose the Right Synonym for detain

keep, retain, detain, withhold, reserve mean to hold in one's possession or under one's control. keep may suggest a holding securely in one's possession, custody, or control. keep this while I'm gone retain implies continued keeping, especially against threatened seizure or forced loss. managed to retain their dignity even in poverty detain suggests a delay in letting go. detained them for questioning withhold implies restraint in letting go or a refusal to let go. withheld information from the authorities reserve suggests a keeping in store for future use. reserve some of your energy for the last mile

delay, retard, slow, slacken, detain mean to cause to be late or behind in movement or progress. delay implies a holding back, usually by interference, from completion or arrival. bad weather delayed our arrival retard suggests reduction of speed without actual stopping. language barriers retarded their progress slow and slacken also imply a reduction of speed, slow often suggesting deliberate intention medication slowed the patient's heart rate , slacken an easing up or relaxing of power or effort. on hot days runners slacken their pace detain implies a holding back beyond a reasonable or appointed time. unexpected business had detained her

Examples of detain in a Sentence

They were detained by the police for questioning. He claimed he had been illegally detained. Unexpected business had detained her.
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Recent Examples on the Web The order said law enforcement cannot detain, arrest or confine anyone who does not wear a mask but can issue fines of up to $250 if someone first ignores a verbal or written warning. Fox News, "Texas sheriffs refuse to enforce governor's mask mandate despite surge in coronavirus cases," 10 July 2020 Hilton Hotels, which joined other major hospitality chains last summer in rejecting ICE’s use of its hotels to detain immigrants, did not respond to a request for comment. Silvia Foster-frau,, "Haitian family detained 3 weeks in San Antonio hotel," 1 July 2020 According to authorities, a struggle ensued as the officers tried to detain the unarmed McClain, placing him in a chokehold and pinning him to the ground for 15 minutes. Benjamin Vanhoose,, "Officers on Paid Leave After Allegedly Taking Photos at Site of Elijah McClain's Fatal Encounter," 30 June 2020 People are instead relying on a fragmented drip of details divulged by sources close to Chinese authorities: for example, that Hong Kong may detain suspects indefinitely in special facilities, or that certain cases will be trialed in China. Mary Hui, Quartz, "The leader of Hong Kong is in the dark about the law that will change Hong Kong forever," 23 June 2020 In a video of the incident, which had not been officially released by early afternoon, officers appear to detain a man before more law enforcement officials arrive. Alejandro Serrano,, "Alameda to order probe of police handcuffing, toppling black man," 5 June 2020 Officers used zip ties to detain marchers and offered water for the eyes of those struggling with reactions to the pepper spray, which stings and temporarily blinds. Free Press Staff, Detroit Free Press, "Tensions hot as Detroit's 5th protest night ends with scores of arrests," 3 June 2020 Police were able to detain Bryant, who still had the gun in his possession, Thompson said. Emily Wilder, The Arizona Republic, "Police: Phoenix man arrested for killing girlfriend, shooting neighbor," 11 July 2020 But the superintendent of Karachi Central Prison, Hasan Sehtoo, said Thursday that Sheikh and three others will remain in custody until Sept. 30 under a law that allows authorities to detain any suspect for up to one year. Fox News, "Man who beheaded US journalist Daniel Pearl, 3 others linked to crime will remain in jail – for now," 3 July 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'detain.' 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 detain

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for detain

Middle English deteynen, from Anglo-French deteign-, stem of detenir, modification of Latin detinēre, from de- + tenēre to hold — more at thin

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Time Traveler for detain

Time Traveler

The first known use of detain was in the 15th century

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Statistics for detain

Last Updated

1 Aug 2020

Cite this Entry

“Detain.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 11 Aug. 2020.

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More Definitions for detain


How to pronounce detain (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of detain

: to officially prevent (someone) from leaving a place : to hold or keep (someone) in a prison or some other place
formal : to keep or prevent (someone) from leaving or arriving at the expected time


de·​tain | \ di-ˈtān How to pronounce detain (audio) \
detained; detaining

Kids Definition of detain

1 : to hold or keep in or as if in prison The suspect was detained by police.
2 : to stop from going on : delay Snow detained our flight.

Legal Definition of detain

1 : to hold or keep in custody or possession property wrongfully detained a juvenile detained in a care facility
2 : to restrain from proceeding detained the driver and asked to see his license

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More from Merriam-Webster on detain

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for detain

Spanish Central: Translation of detain

Nglish: Translation of detain for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of detain for Arabic Speakers

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