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[ri-freyn] /rɪˈfreɪn/
verb (used without object)
to abstain from an impulse to say or do something (often followed by from):
I refrained from telling him what I thought.
verb (used with object)
Archaic. to curb.
Origin of refrain1
1300-50; Middle English refreinen < Old French refrener < Latin refrēnāre to bridle, equivalent to re- re- + frēn(um) bridle + -āre infinitive suffix
Related forms
refrainer, noun
refrainment, noun
unrefrained, adjective
unrefraining, adjective
Can be confused
refrain, restrain.
1. forbear, desist. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for refraining
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • Perhaps he was a little ashamed of his own certainty; but at all events he was subdued and silent, refraining almost from thought.

    The Wizard's Son, vol. 3 Margaret Oliphant
  • This also involves the power of restraint, the act or the refraining from action.

  • Briefly he told the simple facts as they had occurred, refraining from any attempt at explanation.

    Thirty Howard Vincent O'Brien
  • If he is innocent you are doing him no service by refraining from helping us.

    The Grell Mystery Frank Froest
  • Sylvia was refraining, just then, from telling of her own engagement.

    The Shield of Silence Harriet T. Comstock
  • Many times she allowed the dark to fall upon them, refraining from lighting the lamp.

    Dubliners James Joyce
  • Mr. Kendall acted with his usual judgment; and his prudence and humanity, in refraining from firing, merit the highest encomiums.

  • She was afflicted by his refraining from reproaches in his sunken state.

    Vittoria, Complete George Meredith
British Dictionary definitions for refraining


(intransitive) usually foll by from. to abstain (from action); forbear
Derived Forms
refrainer, noun
refrainment, noun
Word Origin
C14: from Latin refrēnāre to check with a bridle, from re- + frēnum a bridle


a regularly recurring melody, such as the chorus of a song
a much repeated saying or idea
Word Origin
C14: via Old French, ultimately from Latin refringere to break into pieces
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 refraining



mid-14c., from Old French refraigner "restrain, repress, keep in check" (12c., Modern French Réfréner), from Latin refrenare "to bridle, hold in with a bit, check, curb, keep down, control," from re- "back" (see re-) + frenare "restrain, furnish with a bridle," from frenum "a bridle." Related: Refrained; refraining.


late 14c., from Old French refrain "chorus" (13c.), alteration of refrait, noun use of past participle of refraindre "repeat," also "break off," from Vulgar Latin *refrangere "break off," alteration of Latin refringere "break up, break open" (see refraction) by influence of frangere "to break." Influenced in French by cognate Provençal refranhar "singing of birds, refrain." The notion is of something that causes a song to "break off" then resume. OED says not common before 19c.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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refraining in Culture

refrain definition

In some pieces of verse, a set of words repeated at the end of each stanza.

The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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