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verb (used with object)
  1. to hold or include within its volume or area: This glass contains water. This paddock contains our best horses.
  2. to be capable of holding; have capacity for: The room will contain 75 persons safely.
  3. to have as contents or constituent parts; comprise; include.
  4. to keep under proper control; restrain: He could not contain his amusement.
  5. to prevent or limit the expansion, influence, success, or advance of (a hostile nation, competitor, opposing force, natural disaster, etc.): to contain an epidemic.
  6. to succeed in preventing the spread of: efforts to contain water pollution.
  7. Mathematics. (of a number) to be a multiple of; be divisible by, without a remainder: Ten contains five.
  8. to be equal to: A quart contains two pints.

Origin of contain

1250–1300; Middle English conte(y)nen < Anglo-French contener, Old French contenir < Latin continēre, equivalent to con- con- + tenēre to hold (see tenet)
Related formscon·tain·a·ble, adjectivepre·con·tain, verb (used with object)un·con·tain·a·ble, adjective

Synonyms for contain

See more synonyms for on

Synonym study

1. Contain, accommodate, hold, express the idea that something is so designed that something else can exist or be placed within it. Contain refers to what is actually within a given container. Hold emphasizes the idea of keeping within bounds; it refers also to the greatest amount or number that can be kept within a given container. Accommodate means to contain comfortably or conveniently, or to meet the needs of a certain number. A passenger plane that accommodates 50 passengers may be able to hold 60, but at a given time may contain only 30. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for contain

Contemporary Examples of contain

Historical Examples of contain

  • They are very sour and do not contain sugar in any quantity.

    Woman's Institute Library of Cookery, Vol. 5

    Woman's Institute of Domestic Arts and Sciences

  • On such an occasion, a month after the wedding, she could not contain herself.


    Mary Roberts Rinehart

  • Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.

  • Another characteristic is the large number of articles which they contain.

    English Villages

    P. H. Ditchfield

  • With better tools we will proceed to dig into these mounds and discover what they contain.

    English Villages

    P. H. Ditchfield

British Dictionary definitions for contain


verb (tr)
  1. to hold or be capable of holding or including within a fixed limit or areathis contains five pints
  2. to keep (one's feelings, behaviour, etc) within bounds; restrain
  3. to consist of; comprisethe book contains three different sections
  4. military to prevent (enemy forces) from operating beyond a certain level or area
  5. maths
    1. to be a multiple of, leaving no remainder6 contains 2 and 3
    2. to have as a subset
Derived Formscontainable, adjective

Word Origin for contain

C13: from Old French contenir, from Latin continēre, from com- together + tenēre to hold
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 contain

late 13c., from Old French contein-, stem of contenir, from Latin continere (transitive) "to hold together, enclose," from com- "together" (see com-) + tenere "to hold" (see tenet). Related: Containable.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper