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 Landry’s boyfriend, 24-year-old Mitchell Allen Mincks, was detained in Waterloo on unrelated charges on April 28. Chelsea Hofmann, azcentral, "Investigators: Bodies found in Iowa believed to be Chino Valley residents missing since April," 29 May 2020 More than a dozen health-care workers and journalists have been detained for speaking publicly about missing supplies or questioning the official infection count. Stephania Taladrid, The New Yorker, "Hunger, Infection, and Repression: Venezuela’s Coronavirus Calamity," 29 May 2020 Malaysia has detained hundreds of undocumented people, required testing for all migrant workers and imposed stricter lockdown on some buildings home to mostly foreigners. Yudith Ho,, "Malaysia Adds Fewest Virus Cases Since March After Surge Among Migrant Workers," 28 May 2020 But many families currently in custody have been detained for months, some since last year. Nomaan Merchant,, "Judge demands ICE explain questioning of parents about release of children," 23 May 2020 Those detained included young children and ethnic Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, rights groups said. NBC News, "Africa surpasses 40,000 reported cases," 4 May 2020 Immigrants also face an uphill battle in being granted bond by immigration judges, with those detained at some for-profit prisons in the Deep South facing denial rates as high as 89%. CBS News, ""Never prepared": Report details poor conditions at ICE jails with coronavirus cases," 30 Apr. 2020 In Sacramento, where sideshows earlier this month led to at least one crash involving a law enforcement vehicle, Police Chief Daniel Hahn said his officers would begin citing those detained at racing scenes for violating the county’s health order. James Queally, Los Angeles Times, "Street racers are taking over roads emptied by coronavirus, with fatal results," 22 Apr. 2020 Among those detained in the sweeping crackdown were the media tycoon Jimmy Lai and former lawmaker Martin Lee, the founder of the Democratic Party. David Clark Scott, The Christian Science Monitor, "Monday Sunrise Briefing: US close to $450 billion rescue plan," 20 Apr. 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

2 Jun 2020

Cite this Entry

“Detain.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 2 Jun. 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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