sus·​tain | \ sə-ˈstān How to pronounce sustain (audio) \
sustained; sustaining; sustains

Definition of sustain

 (Entry 1 of 2)

transitive verb

1 : to give support or relief to
2 : to supply with sustenance : nourish
4 : to support the weight of : prop also : to carry or withstand (a weight or pressure)
5 : to buoy up sustained by hope
6a : to bear up under
b : suffer, undergo sustained heavy losses
7a : to support as true, legal, or just
b : to allow or admit as valid the court sustained the motion
8 : to support by adequate proof : confirm testimony that sustains our contention



Definition of sustain (Entry 2 of 2)

: a musical effect that prolongs a note's resonance utilizing heavy sustain on his guitar— Bill Dahl

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from sustain


sustainedly \ sə-​ˈstā-​nəd-​lē How to pronounce sustainedly (audio) , -​ˈstānd-​lē \ adverb
sustainer noun

Synonyms for sustain

Synonyms: Verb

Visit the Thesaurus for More 

Examples of sustain in a Sentence

Verb Hope sustained us during that difficult time. The roof, unable to sustain the weight of all the snow, collapsed. The army sustained heavy losses. He sustained serious injuries in the accident.
See More
Recent Examples on the Web: Verb Studios cannot sustain franchise movies, with as much as $200 million in production costs and an equal sum in marketing expenses, with digital revenue. Washington Post, "Universal Pictures’ deal with AMC won’t likely mean you can see big movies fast at home," 29 July 2020 But that is no way to sustain ourselves through a pandemic that may last another year. Zeynep Tufekci, The Atlantic, "Scolding Beachgoers Isn’t Helping," 4 July 2020 This kind of support during the pandemic has helped sustain services that the nonprofit offers its clients including food, financial and medical assistance. Melanie Feuk, Houston Chronicle, "Tomball Emergency Assistance Ministries works through challenges to meet needs amid pandemic," 3 July 2020 In the absence of an income for two months, Mishra’s family had to rely on the benevolence of his children’s school teachers in order to sustain themselves. Aarefa Johari, Quartz India, "In India’s financial capital, small businesses struggle to survive after the migrant exodus," 28 June 2020 Part of the hardship may stem from the growth in income volatility — needy families generally lack credit or savings to sustain them through delays. Jason Deparle,, "Vast federal aid has capped rise in poverty, studies find," 21 June 2020 The stops need to provide the birds with enough food to recover from the previous leg of their journey—and the right kind of sustenance to sustain them for the next one. Paige Embry, Scientific American, "Slimy Mudflat Biofilms Feed Migratory Birds—and Could Be Threatened," 17 June 2020 Its upper support remains at $10,000 and may continue to be the level to breach for the coin to sustain its rally since March. Eric Lam,, "Bitcoin Extends Selloff to $9,000 Amid Wider Risk-Asset Aversion," 15 June 2020 Most people exert such effort to sustain themselves and their families each day that the threat of COVID-19 pales in comparison. Rachel Jones, National Geographic, "In this sprawling city within a city, fighting coronavirus requires solidarity," 9 June 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Pluto's surface temperature of minus-378 to minus-396 degrees Fahrenheit is too cold to sustain life, according to NASA. Khrysgiana Pineda, USA TODAY, "Pluto was once hot and harbors oceans today, study says," 24 June 2020 How does a company sustain higher the performance that landed in its lap in a situation such as Covid? Christiane Lemieux, Wired, "The Future of Commerce Belongs to the Frictionless," 23 June 2020 High-quality home-recording equipment, by contrast, can be purchased at a lower cost and sustain musicians for a long time. The Economist, "Sofa sessions The pandemic has brought about a home-studio boom," 15 June 2020 Off the coast of British Columbia, warm water currents mix with the cold, nutrient-rich waters of the Pacific, providing the perfect soup to sustain and nourish a large diversity of life. Steve Winter, National Geographic, "Everyone can watch the birds," 4 June 2020 Novacek’s playing was like a more subtle translation of Josefowicz’s, leaning on the piano’s percussive core, using the sustain pedal for attention-calling washes of resonance and, in the Kurtág, landing some seriously concussive accents. Matthew Guerrieri, Washington Post, "Leila Josefowicz presents the violin, unfiltered, in Library of Congress recital," 24 Nov. 2019 The movie is filled with stunning landscapes, and the sleek lions are part of an arid but beautiful terrain that both sustains and threatens. Erin Blakemore, Washington Post, "Rare desert lions are magnificent, and you can see them in their home territory," 8 July 2018 Smythe stood, bent over the open piano, manipulating the strings while the sustain pedal was depressed by ensemble member Eric Segnitz. Elaine Schmidt, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Present Music takes a chance on unpredictable sounds," 23 Feb. 2018 His efficiency is helping the TCU offense sustain drives and give the defense rest. Matt Jennings, ajc, "TCU QB Kenny Hill finally learning ‘how to win,’ Gary Patterson says," 24 Sep. 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'sustain.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of sustain


13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1972, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for sustain


Middle English sustenen, from Anglo-French sustein-, stem of sustenir, from Latin sustinēre to hold up, sustain, from sub-, sus- up + tenēre to hold — more at sub-, thin

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about sustain

Time Traveler for sustain

Time Traveler

The first known use of sustain was in the 13th century

See more words from the same century

Listen to Our Podcast about sustain

Statistics for sustain

Last Updated

2 Aug 2020

Cite this Entry

“Sustain.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 4 Aug. 2020.

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for sustain


How to pronounce sustain (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of sustain

: to provide what is needed for (something or someone) to exist, continue, etc.
formal : to hold up the weight of (something)
formal : to deal with or experience (something bad or unpleasant)


sus·​tain | \ sə-ˈstān How to pronounce sustain (audio) \
sustained; sustaining

Kids Definition of sustain

1 : to provide with what is needed Food sustains life.
2 : to keep up the spirits of Hope sustained us.
3 : to keep up : prolong This author's books sustain my interest.
4 : to hold up the weight of The roof couldn't sustain the weight of the snow.
5 : experience entry 2 The army sustained heavy losses.
6 : to allow or uphold as true, legal, or fair The judge sustained the motion to dismiss the case.
sus·​tain | \ sə-ˈstān How to pronounce sustain (audio) \

Legal Definition of sustain

1 : to support as true, legal, or just
2 : to allow or uphold as valid sustain an objection — compare overrule sense 1

Other Words from sustain

sustainable adjective

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on sustain

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for sustain

Spanish Central: Translation of sustain

Nglish: Translation of sustain for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of sustain for Arabic Speakers

Comments on sustain

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


Test Your Vocabulary

July 2020 Words of the Day Quiz

  • papercraft sunset
  • Which is a synonym of mien?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Dictionary Devil

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!