verb re·tain \ri-ˈtān\

Definition of retain

  1. transitive verb
  2. 1a :  to keep in possession or useb :  to keep in one's pay or service; specifically :  to employ by paying a retainerc :  to keep in mind or memory :  remember

  3. 2 :  to hold secure or intact

Examples of retain in a sentence

  1. A landlord may retain part of your deposit if you break the lease.

  2. They insisted on retaining old customs.

  3. You will retain your rights as a citizen.

  4. The TV show has retained its popularity for many years.

  5. The company's goal is to attract and retain good employees.

  6. The team failed to retain him, and he became a free agent.

  7. They have decided to retain a firm to conduct a survey.

  8. You may need to retain an attorney.

Origin and Etymology of retain

Middle English reteinen, retainen, from Anglo-French retenir, reteigner, from Latin retinēre to hold back, restrain, from re- + tenēre to hold — more at thin

First Known Use: 15th century

Synonym Discussion of retain

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

RETAIN Defined for English Language Learners


verb re·tain \ri-ˈtān\

Definition of retain for English Language Learners

  • : to continue to have or use (something)

  • : to keep (someone) in a position, job, etc.

  • : to pay for the work of (a person or business)

RETAIN Defined for Kids


verb re·tain \ri-ˈtān\

Definition of retain for Students




  1. 1 :  to keep or continue to use They retain old customs.

  2. 2 :  to hold safe or unchanged Lead retains heat.

Word Root of retain

The Latin words tenēre, meaning “to hold,” gives us the roots ten and tain. Words from the Latin tenēre have something to do with holding. Something tenacious holds on and is not easily gotten rid of. To contain is to hold things together inside. To obtain is to get hold of. To retain is to continue to hold.

Medical Dictionary


transitive verb re·tain \ri-ˈtān\

Medical Definition of retain

  1. 1:  to hold or keep in retain fluids

  2. 2:  to keep in mind or memory

Law Dictionary


transitive verb re·tain \ri-ˈtān\

Legal Definition of retain

  1. 1 :  to keep in possession or use

  2. 2 :  to keep in one's pay or service; specifically :  to employ (as a lawyer) by paying a retainer

Seen and Heard

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


to cast off or become cast off

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