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re·​frain ri-ˈfrān How to pronounce refrain (audio)
refrained; refraining; refrains

intransitive verb

: to keep oneself from doing, feeling, or indulging in something and especially from following a passing impulse
refrained from having dessert
refrainment noun


2 of 2


: a regularly recurring phrase or verse especially at the end of each stanza or division of a poem or song : chorus
also : the musical setting of a refrain
: a comment or statement that is often repeated

Examples of refrain in a Sentence

Verb I was going to make a joke but I refrained. Noun A common refrain among teachers these days is that the schools need more funding. I didn't know the verses of the song, so I only sang on the refrain.
Recent Examples on the Web
Even Netanyahu’s political rivals have refrained from publicly discussing the two-state solution since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack. Rachel Pannett, Washington Post, 11 Apr. 2024 Part of that show of respect is to remain reverent during this event and to refrain from eating, sleeping, or going outside, instead taking the time to pray and sit still. The Arizona Republic, 4 Apr. 2024 The courts have mostly refrained from granting bail to many of these individuals. Astha Rajvanshi, TIME, 2 Apr. 2024 Steve Martin Reveals What Elvis Presley Thought of His Comedy Act After the King Caught His Las Vegas Show — New Doc Glenn didn't even refrain from criticizing Steve when at industry events like premieres of movies his son was starring in. Esme Mazzeo, Peoplemag, 31 Mar. 2024 After Chinese intervention in the Korean War in 1950, the United States had to pull its punches—refraining from striking targets in China, for instance—for fear of starting a fight with Moscow. Hal Brands, Foreign Affairs, 29 Mar. 2024 During the Middle Ages, eggs became prevalent during the Easter holiday since Catholic Christians refrained from eating eggs during Lent, but indulged in them once Easter arrived. Sarah Mosqueda, Los Angeles Times, 28 Mar. 2024 And when war was clearly imminent, her administration refrained from launching preemptive attacks that could have saved the lives of hundreds of soldiers. Anshel Pfeffer, The Atlantic, 27 Mar. 2024 That means asking passengers to attend to their personal hygiene and refrain from using perfume and cologne before the flight. Christopher Elliott, USA TODAY, 22 Mar. 2024
With the appropriate budget, refrain from cutting corners or approaching it as just another home project. Sarah Yang, Sunset Magazine, 10 Apr. 2024 But Gorsuch's refrains reflect the uptick in nationwide injunctions imposed by district court judges over the past few years in response to court fights over hot-button policies. Melissa Quinn, CBS News, 10 Apr. 2024 The palace also asked that well-wishers refrain from laying flowers at the gates, as members of the public have historically done following deaths within the royal family. Janine Henni, Peoplemag, 9 Apr. 2024 Our ruling In a radio interview, Trump repeated familiar false refrains. Journal Sentinel, 1 Apr. 2024 Another common refrain is that permitting later work hours allows high school students opportunities similar to varsity athletes whose games often go later than state law allows teens to work. Lauren Kaori Gurley, Washington Post, 31 Mar. 2024 Conversations with these parents—all of whom live in the New York City area, and whose kids attend a mix of public, charter, and private schools—hit common refrains. Jessica Winter, The New Yorker, 28 Mar. 2024 Back in the ’80s, that was a familiar refrain, especially among adults wary of the effect that electronic devices could have on developing young minds. Peter Debruge, Variety, 25 Mar. 2024 Amid Israel's ongoing bombardment of the Gaza Strip, her refrain serves as a reminder of the steep risks local reporters face to share unfiltered accounts of what is unraveling on the ground. Cnt Editors, Condé Nast Traveler, 8 Mar. 2024

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'refrain.' 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 refreynen, from Anglo-French refreiner, refreindre, from Latin refrenare, from re- + frenum bridle — more at frenum


Middle English refreyn, from Middle French refrain, alteration of Old French refrait melody, response, from past participle of refraindre to break up, moderate, from Vulgar Latin *refrangere, alteration of Latin refringere — more at refract

First Known Use


14th century, in the meaning defined at transitive sense


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of refrain was in the 14th century

Dictionary Entries Near refrain

Cite this Entry

“Refrain.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition


1 of 2 verb
re·​frain ri-ˈfrān How to pronounce refrain (audio)
: to hold oneself back
refrain from laughing


2 of 2 noun
: a regularly repeated phrase or verse of a poem or song : chorus

More from Merriam-Webster on refrain

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