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 Police later picked up a group of teens near the Argyle train station, detained them and took reports. Fox News, "EXCLUSIVE: Chicago subway video captures man being attacked by 11 teens," 7 Feb. 2020 Officers determined the male was intoxicated and attempted to detain him. Washington Post, "Prince William crime report," 5 Feb. 2020 The officers, assisted by an HPD helicopter above, quickly found the driver and detained him a second time, Garcia said. Jay R. Jordan, Houston Chronicle, "Handcuffed man steals Pasadena patrol cruiser, leads officers on pursuit into Houston," 31 Jan. 2020 In previous administrations, the government’s options for asylum-seekers were to detain them in the U.S. or release them — and Border Patrol wasn’t in charge of making that choice. Dara Lind, ProPublica, "“Women to One Side, Men to the Other”: How the Border Patrol’s New Powers and Old Carelessness Separated a Family," 31 Jan. 2020 Police found Ayers walking nearby and detained him. Alyssa Stoney, azcentral, "Traffic violation led to arrest of man suspected of killing Arizona Rattlers player," 30 Jan. 2020 Was there an Immigration reason for detaining them? Priscilla Alvarez, CNN, "US border officers were told to stop Iran-born travelers, officer says," 24 Jan. 2020 The agreement mandates the government to release children from custody as expeditiously as possible and to detain them in the least restrictive settings as possible. Camilo Montoya-galvez, CBS News, "U.S. deports Honduran mother and 2 sick children to Guatemala despite advocacy efforts," 22 Jan. 2020 Feras told me the police used unnecessary force in detaining him. Michael O'connell, The Hollywood Reporter, "'The Cave' Filmmakers Offer Update on Director Feras Fayyad’s Visa Struggles," 17 Jan. 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

11 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Detain.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 17 Feb. 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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