verb (used with object)

to keep possession of.
to continue to use, practice, etc.: to retain an old custom.
to continue to hold or have: to retain a prisoner in custody; a cloth that retains its color.
to keep in mind; remember.
to hold in place or position.
to engage, especially by payment of a preliminary fee: to retain a lawyer.

Origin of retain

1350–1400; Middle English reteinen < Old French retenir < Latin retinēre to hold back, hold fast, equivalent to re- re- + -tinēre, combining form of tenēre to hold
Related formsre·tain·a·ble, adjectivere·tain·a·bil·i·ty, re·tain·a·ble·ness, nounre·tain·ment, nounnon·re·tain·a·ble, adjectivenon·re·tain·ment, nounun·re·tain·a·ble, adjectiveun·re·tained, adjectiveun·re·tain·ing, adjective

Synonyms for retain

1. hold, preserve. See keep.

Antonyms for retain

1. loose, lose. 4. forget. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for retain

Contemporary Examples of retain

Historical Examples of retain

  • If a servant complained of being abused, his master had no power to retain him.


    Lydia Maria Child

  • For the present, he could not do better than to retain his place in the factory.

    Brave and Bold

    Horatio Alger

  • To attempt to eliminate fear and retain this concept of God is vain.

  • We should help him to retain their affection and faithfulness.

  • If Cass had stolen the money it would never do to retain him in a position of trust.


    W. A. Fraser

British Dictionary definitions for retain


verb (tr)

to keep in one's possession
to be able to hold or containsoil that retains water
(of a person) to be able to remember (information, facts, etc) without difficulty
to hold in position
to keep for one's future use, as by paying a retainer or nominal chargeto retain one's rooms for the holidays
law to engage the services of (a barrister) by payment of a preliminary fee
(in selling races) to buy back a winner that one owns when it is auctioned after the race
(of racehorse trainers) to pay an advance fee to (a jockey) so as to have prior or exclusive claims upon his services throughout the season
Derived Formsretainable, adjectiveretainment, noun

Word Origin for retain

C14: from Old French retenir, from Latin retinēre to hold back, from re- + 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 retain

late 14c., "hold back, restrain;" c.1400, "continue keeping, keep possession of," from Old French retenir "keep, retain; take into feudal service; hold back; remember" (12c.), from Latin retinere "hold back, keep back, detain, restrain," from re- "back" (see re-) + tenere "to hold" (see tenet). Meaning "keep (another) attached to one's person, keep in service" is from mid-15c.; specifically of lawyers from 1540s. Meaning "keep in the mind" is from c.1500. Related: Retained; retaining.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper