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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


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: 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
Officials urged people to refrain from calling 911 to test their phones. Aimee Picchi, CBS News, 22 Feb. 2024 Key Facts Key Background Members of the royal family have long refrained from making political statements or wading into international conflict, but both Prince William and his brother have made exceptions in recent years. Mary Whitfill Roeloffs, Forbes, 20 Feb. 2024 Well, after episode four aired, Maria asked fans to refrain from coming for the other women on social media. Glamour, 19 Feb. 2024 International organizations, rights group advocates and even a growing number of Western leaders are all urging Israel to refrain from launching a full-scale ground offensive on Rafah, the overwhelmed city on Gaza’s southern border with Egypt. Ishaan Tharoor, Washington Post, 16 Feb. 2024 Duffy ordered that Kodak refrain from driving and surrender his driver’s license to attorney Brad Cohen. Grethel Aguila, Miami Herald, 16 Feb. 2024 Israel has been under pressure from the international community to refrain from launching a ground operation in Rafah, which has for weeks been under Israeli aerial bombardment. Nadeen Ebrahim, CNN, 13 Feb. 2024 Likewise, Young refrained from performing live during the COVID-19 pandemic but returned to the stage last summer as part of a U.S. solo tour. Spin Staff, SPIN, 13 Feb. 2024 The department also asks people to avoid contact with rodents and refrain from feeding squirrels or chipmunks. Aria Bendix, NBC News, 9 Feb. 2024
Psychological Safety In unhealthy environments, team members often don’t ask questions, conceal weaknesses, avoid admitting mistakes, refrain from offering ideas and hesitate to critique the status quo. Andrew Sever, Forbes, 15 Feb. 2024 Take your time, refrain from overreacting and learn from the experience. Eugenia Last, The Mercury News, 14 Feb. 2024 Since that day, Sojourner Truth has been known almost entirely for the refrain of that speech. Cynthia Greenlee, Smithsonian Magazine, 12 Feb. 2024 Even before Oct, 7, explosions were a regular refrain during the periodic flare-ups between Israelis and Palestinians. Matt Bradley, NBC News, 7 Feb. 2024 But Nelson wasn’t the only singer to launch from its desirous refrain. Erin Osmon, Los Angeles Times, 30 Jan. 2024 What was the common refrain among studio executives about Black films at that time? Pamela McClintock, The Hollywood Reporter, 8 Jan. 2024 That’s a common refrain around here: Don’t bite the hand that feeds you. Erika Page, The Christian Science Monitor, 25 Jan. 2024 Earlier this year, during each night on their tour, The 5 Seconds of Summer Show, 5SOS offered an earnest refrain to their audience. Larisha Paul, Rolling Stone, 21 Dec. 2023 See More

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 5 Mar. 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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