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

transitive verb

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

treatment that retards tumor growth

slow and slacken also imply a reduction of speed, slow often suggesting deliberate intention

she closed her eyes and slowed her breathing

, 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.
Recent Examples on the Web Coleman was ordered detained pending a court hearing Wednesday. Peter Hermann, Washington Post, 20 Feb. 2024 Meanwhile, 387 people were detained across 39 Russian cities for public displays of mourning between Friday and Sunday, and 28 others were taken into custody Monday morning, according to Russian human rights group OVD-info. Forbes Daily, Forbes, 20 Feb. 2024 And yet, as the tributes to Mr. Navalny poured in and the flowers piled up at memorial sites around the world and in Russia, where the police detained more than 400 people who dared to leave bouquets in the snow, critics of Mr. Putin argued that Mr. Navalny’s death could be a galvanizing moment. Mark Landler, New York Times, 18 Feb. 2024 Since Navalny’s death more than 366 people have been detained, according to OVD-Info, an independent Russian human rights group that monitors Russian repression. Sophie Tanno, CNN, 18 Feb. 2024 Last year, House Republicans passed a bill mandating that the government detain all families crossing the border unlawfully and reinstate Trump’s immigration policies (including those blocked by the courts). Jonathan Blitzer, The New Yorker, 17 Feb. 2024 Hurtado is detained in the Middlesex Jail and House of Corrections in Massachusetts, according to authorities. Julia Marnin, Miami Herald, 16 Feb. 2024 Four other male relatives in the home were also detained in the raid, her aunt told Elagha, including Elagha’s two uncles, one of whom is mentally disabled. Kareem Fahim, Washington Post, 8 Feb. 2024 On February 17, 2022, Griner was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport for possession of cannabis oil while on her way to play for UMMC Ekaterinburg. Carly Tagen-Dye, Peoplemag, 6 Feb. 2024 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'detain.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


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

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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

Dictionary Entries Near detain

Cite this Entry

“Detain.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition


de·​tain di-ˈtān How to pronounce detain (audio)
: to hold or keep in or as if in prison
: to prevent from proceeding : stop
was detained by a flat tire
detainment noun

Legal Definition


transitive verb
: to hold or keep in custody or possession
property wrongfully detained
a juvenile detained in a care facility
: to restrain from proceeding
detained the driver and asked to see his license
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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