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verb (used without object)
  1. to abstain from an impulse to say or do something (often followed by from): I refrained from telling him what I thought.
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verb (used with object)
  1. Archaic. to curb.
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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 formsre·frain·er, nounre·frain·ment, nounun·re·frained, adjectiveun·re·frain·ing, adjective
Can be confusedrefrain restrain


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  1. a phrase or verse recurring at intervals in a song or poem, especially at the end of each stanza; chorus.
  2. Music.
    1. a musical setting for the refrain of a poem.
    2. any melody.
    3. the principal, recurrent section of a rondo.
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Origin of refrain2

1325–75; Middle English refreyne < Old French refrain, derivative of refraindre to break sequence < Vulgar Latin *refrangere, for Latin refringere to refract
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Related Words

melody, theme, abstain, halt, renounce, avoid, forgo, resist, desist, cease, restrain, curb, strain, music, burden, tune, song, forbear, quit, inhibit

Examples from the Web for refrain

Contemporary Examples

Historical Examples

British Dictionary definitions for refrain


  1. (intr usually foll by from) to abstain (from action); forbear
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Derived Formsrefrainer, nounrefrainment, noun

Word Origin

C14: from Latin refrēnāre to check with a bridle, from re- + frēnum a bridle


  1. a regularly recurring melody, such as the chorus of a song
  2. a much repeated saying or idea
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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

Word Origin and History for refrain


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.

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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.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

refrain in Culture


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

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