de·tain | \ di-ˈtān , dē- \

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 \-mənt \ 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

Eight people were detained Friday by a local DEA Narcotics Task Force during a series of raids at locations across San Diego County, authorities said. Alex Riggins,, "8 detained in DEA raids across county," 13 July 2018 The organizations originally concentrated on housing and detaining at-risk youth, but shifted their focus to immigrants when tens of thousands of Central American children started arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border in recent years. Martha Mendoza And Larry Fenn, Detroit Free Press, "Detaining immigrant kids is now a billion-dollar industry, research shows," 12 July 2018 Jonathan Rhys Meyers‘ wife Mara Lane is clearing the air after the actor was detained by police following a cross-country flight on Sunday. Ale Russian,, "Jonathan Rhys Meyers Was Working Through 'Anger Issues' Before He Was Detained by Cops," 10 July 2018 The rate at which black residents were detained for traffic or pedestrian stops was more than six times higher than whites, according to the ACLU’s analysis. Ivan Moreno, The Seattle Times, "Milwaukee to pay $3.4 mln over police stop-and-frisk policy," 10 July 2018 After Micheli’s arrest in the killing, Howell, the chief federal judge, and council member Allen each summoned District officials to address the continuing errors involving federal inmates detained at D.C. facilities. Spencer S. Hsu, Washington Post, "An alleged murder by absconding inmate prompts relocation of D.C. Jail prisoners to Virginia," 13 July 2018 One hundred Spanish-language books were to be delivered Tuesday morning to immigrant families with children detained at the Berks County Residential Facility as an act of friendship, not politics. Oona Goodin-smith,, "Why Philly is a bad place to get bedbugs, ringing in the Fourth with protests and Pitbull | Morning Newsletter," 5 July 2018 President Donald Trump recently ended his administration's practice of separating families detained at the border. Post-Tribune, "State briefs," 3 July 2018 Speakers said many of the families detained at the border are seeking asylum from dangerous conditions in their home countries. Lavendrick Smith, charlotteobserver, "'Ready for action': Charlotte protesters join effort against immigration policies," 30 June 2018

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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Statistics for detain

Last Updated

23 Sep 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for detain

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

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More Definitions for detain



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

: to keep or prevent (someone) from leaving or arriving at the expected time


de·tain | \ di-ˈtān \
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

Spanish Central: Translation of detain

Nglish: Translation of detain for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of detain for Arabic Speakers

Comments on detain

What made you want to look up detain? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


to deposit or conceal in a hiding place

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