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[ab-steyn] /æbˈsteɪn/
verb (used without object)
to hold oneself back voluntarily, especially from something regarded as improper or unhealthy (usually followed by from):
to abstain from eating meat.
to refrain from casting one's vote:
a referendum in which two delegates abstained.
Origin of abstain
1350-1400; Middle English abste(i)nen < Middle French abstenirLatin abstinēre, equivalent to abs- abs- + -tinēre, combining form of tenēre to hold, keep
Related forms
nonabstaining, adjective
overabstain, verb (used without object)
1. forbear; desist, cease.
1. indulge. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for abstaining
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • Or would you abstain from using the potion altogether, although you have no reason for abstaining?'

    Laws Plato
  • How, then, do they regard your abstaining from calling there?

    Tony Butler Charles James Lever
  • There was much philosophy in abstaining from philosophy overmuch.

  • This was what he had gained by abstaining from the sight of her for four weeks.

    The Faith Doctor Edward Eggleston
  • But I am not now abstaining from doing so at the first moment when I asked the question.

    War and Peace Leo Tolstoy
  • abstaining from speech marks him who is obeying the spontaneity of his nature.

    Tao Teh King Lao-Tze
British Dictionary definitions for abstaining


verb (intransitive) usually foll by from
to choose to refrain: he abstained from alcohol
to refrain from voting, esp in a committee, legislature, etc
Derived Forms
abstainer, noun
Word Origin
C14: via Old French from Latin abstinēre, from abs-ab-1 + tenēre to hold, keep
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for abstaining



late 14c., "to withhold oneself," from Old French abstenir (14c.), earlier astenir (13c.) "hold (oneself) back, refrain, abstain (from), practice abstinence," from Latin abstinere "withhold, keep back, keep off," from ab(s)- "from, away from" (see ab-) + tenere "to hold" (see tenet). Specifically of liquor, attested from late 14c. Of voting, 1796. Related: Abstained; abstaining.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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