verb (used with object)

to keep from proceeding; keep waiting; delay.
to keep under restraint or in custody.
Obsolete. to keep back or withhold, as from a person.

Origin of detain

1480–90; detainen < Anglo-French, Old French detenir < Vulgar Latin *dētenīre, for Latin dētinēre, equivalent to dē- de- + -tinēre, combining form of tenēre to hold
Related formsde·tain·a·ble, adjectivede·tain·ment, nounpre·de·tain, verb (used with object)un·de·tain·a·ble, adjectiveun·de·tained, adjective

Synonyms for detain Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for detain

Contemporary Examples of detain

Historical Examples of detain

  • "Don't let me detain you," said Halbert, with an elaborate share of politeness.

    Brave and Bold

    Horatio Alger

  • What he had to say therefore on the subject would not detain them long.

  • Mrs. Menotti tried to detain him; she could not understand what was amiss.

    Rico and Wiseli

    Johanna Spyri

  • Then she withdrew her arms, and this time he did not try to detain her.

    The Foolish Lovers

    St. John G. Ervine

  • As everything was right, the ship did not detain us, and we were permitted to proceed.

    Ned Myers

    James Fenimore Cooper

British Dictionary definitions for detain


verb (tr)

to delay; hold back; stop
to confine or hold in custody; restrain
archaic to retain or withhold
Derived Formsdetainable, adjectivedetainee (ˌdiːteɪˈniː), noundetainment, noun

Word Origin for detain

C15: from Old French detenir, from Latin dētinēre to hold off, keep back, from de- + 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 detain

early 15c., deteynen, from Old French detenir "to hold off, keep back" (12c.), from Latin detinere "hold off, keep back," from de- "from, away" (see de-) + tenere "to hold" (see tenet). Modern spelling is 17c., from influence of contain, retain, etc. Related: Detained; detaining.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper