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 formsnon·ab·stain·ing, adjectiveo·ver·ab·stain, verb (used without object)

Synonyms for abstain

Antonyms for abstain

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for abstaining

Contemporary Examples of abstaining

Historical Examples of abstaining

  • Or would you abstain from using the potion altogether, although you have no reason for abstaining?'



  • 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

British Dictionary definitions for abstaining


verb (intr usually foll by from)

to choose to refrainhe abstained from alcohol
to refrain from voting, esp in a committee, legislature, etc
Derived Formsabstainer, noun

Word Origin for abstain

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

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