See more synonyms for strain on
verb (used with object)
  1. to draw tight or taut, especially to the utmost tension; stretch to the full: to strain a rope.
  2. to exert to the utmost: to strain one's ears to catch a sound.
  3. to impair, injure, or weaken (a muscle, tendon, etc.) by stretching or overexertion.
  4. to cause mechanical deformation in (a body or structure) as the result of stress.
  5. to stretch beyond the proper point or limit: to strain the meaning of a word.
  6. to make excessive demands upon: to strain one's luck; to strain one's resources.
  7. to pour (liquid containing solid matter) through a filter, sieve, or the like in order to hold back the denser solid constituents: to strain gravy.
  8. to draw off (clear or pure liquid) by means of a filter or sieve: to strain the water from spinach; to strain broth.
  9. to hold back (solid particles) from liquid matter by means of a filter or sieve: to strain seeds from orange juice; to strain rice.
  10. to clasp tightly in the arms, the hand, etc.: The mother strained her child close to her breast.
  11. Obsolete. to constrain, as to a course of action.
verb (used without object)
  1. to pull forcibly: a dog straining at a leash.
  2. to stretch one's muscles, nerves, etc., to the utmost.
  3. to make violent physical efforts; strive hard.
  4. to resist forcefully; balk: to strain at accepting an unpleasant fact.
  5. to be subjected to tension or stress; suffer strain.
  6. to filter, percolate, or ooze.
  7. to trickle or flow: Sap strained from the bark.
  1. any force or pressure tending to alter shape, cause a fracture, etc.
  2. strong muscular or physical effort.
  3. great or excessive effort or striving after some goal, object, or effect.
  4. an injury to a muscle, tendon, etc., due to excessive tension or use; sprain.
  5. Mechanics, Physics. deformation of a body or structure as a result of an applied force.
  6. condition of being strained or stretched.
  7. a task, goal, or effect accomplished only with great effort: Housecleaning is a real strain.
  8. severe, trying, or fatiguing pressure or exertion; taxing onus: the strain of hard work.
  9. a severe demand on or test of resources, feelings, a person, etc.: a strain on one's hospitality.
  10. a flow or burst of language, eloquence, etc.: the lofty strain of Cicero.
  11. Often strains. a passage of melody, music, or songs as rendered or heard: the strains of the nightingale.
  12. Music. a section of a piece of music, more or less complete in itself.
  13. a passage or piece of poetry.
  14. the tone, style, or spirit of an utterance, writing, etc.: a humorous strain.
  15. a particular degree, height, or pitch attained: a strain of courageous enthusiasm.

Origin of strain

1250–1300; Middle English streinen (v.) < Old French estrein-, stem of estreindre to press tightly, grip < Latin stringere to bind, tie, draw tight. See stringent
Related formsstrain·ing·ly, adverbstrain·less, adjectivestrain·less·ly, adverb

Synonyms for strain

See more synonyms for on
1. tighten. 3. Strain, sprain imply a wrenching, twisting, and stretching of muscles and tendons. To strain is to stretch tightly, make taut, wrench, tear, cause injury to, by long-continued or sudden and too violent effort or movement: to strain one's heart by overexertion, one's eyes by reading small print. To sprain is to strain excessively (but without dislocation) by a sudden twist or wrench, the tendons and muscles connected with a joint, especially those of the ankle or wrist: to sprain an ankle. 7. filter, sieve. 10. hug, embrace, press. 17. seep. 20. exertion. 22. wrench. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for straining

Contemporary Examples of straining

Historical Examples of straining

  • Sidney, straining her ears, gathered that they had seen a miracle, and that the wonder was still on them.


    Mary Roberts Rinehart

  • I wished him to go on, but he was peering into my straining eyes with anxious sympathy.

  • If not perfectly bright after straining, you may clarify it in this manner.

  • Then suddenly she was in his arms, shaking and sobbing, straining him to her.

    The Fortune Hunter

    Louis Joseph Vance

  • He tensed, straining his ears for any movement that might locate the hidden foe.

    Slaves of Mercury

    Nat Schachner

British Dictionary definitions for straining


  1. to draw or be drawn taut; stretch tight
  2. to exert, tax, or use (resources) to the utmost extent
  3. to injure or damage or be injured or damaged by overexertionhe strained himself
  4. to deform or be deformed as a result of a stress
  5. (intr) to make intense or violent efforts; strive
  6. to subject or be subjected to mental tension or stress
  7. to pour or pass (a substance) or (of a substance) to be poured or passed through a sieve, filter, or strainer
  8. (tr) to draw off or remove (one part of a substance or mixture from another) by or as if by filtering
  9. (tr) to clasp tightly; hug
  10. (tr) obsolete to force or constrain
  11. (intr foll by at)
    1. to push, pull, or work with violent exertion (upon)
    2. to strive (for)
    3. to balk or scruple (from)
  1. the act or an instance of straining
  2. the damage resulting from excessive exertion
  3. an intense physical or mental effort
  4. music (often plural) a theme, melody, or tune
  5. a great demand on the emotions, resources, etc
  6. a feeling of tension and tiredness resulting from overwork, worry, etc; stress
  7. a particular style or recurring theme in speech or writing
  8. physics the change in dimension of a body under load expressed as the ratio of the total deflection or change in dimension to the original unloaded dimension. It may be a ratio of lengths, areas, or volumes

Word Origin for strain

C13: from Old French estreindre to press together, from Latin stringere to bind tightly


  1. the main body of descendants from one ancestor
  2. a group of organisms within a species or variety, distinguished by one or more minor characteristics
  3. a variety of bacterium or fungus, esp one used for a culture
  4. a streak; trace
  5. archaic a kind, type, or sort

Word Origin for strain

Old English strēon; related to Old High German gistriuni gain, Latin struere to construct
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 straining



"to stretch, draw tight," c.1300, from present participle stem of Old French estreindre "bind tightly, clasp, squeeze," from Latin stringere (2) "bind or draw tight," from PIE root *strenk- "tight, narrow; pull tight, twist" (cf. Lithuanian stregti "congeal;" Greek strangein "twist;" Old High German strician "mends nets;" Old English streccian "to stretch," streng "string;" German stramm, Dutch stram "stiff"). Sense of "press through a filter" is from early 14c. (implied in strainer); that of "lay undue stress on, make a forced interpretation of" is from mid-15c. Related: Strained; straining.



"line of descent," Old English strion, streon "gain, begetting," from Proto-Germanic *streun- "to pile up," from PIE root *stere- "to spread, extend, stretch out" (see structure (n.)). Applied to animal species first in c.1600.



"injury caused by straining," 1550s, from strain (v.). The meaning "passage of music" (1570s) probably developed from a verbal sense of "to tighten" the voice, originally the strings of a musical instrument (late 14c.).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

straining in Science


  1. A group of organisms of the same species, sharing certain hereditary characteristics not typical of the entire species but minor enough not to warrant classification as a separate breed or variety. Resistance to specific antibiotics is a feature of certain strains of bacteria.
  2. The extent to which a body is distorted when it is subjected to a deforming force, as when under stress. The distortion can involve a change both in shape and in size. All measures of strain are dimensionless (they have no unit of measure).Axial strain is equal to the ratio between the change in length of an object and its original length.Volume strain is equal to the ratio between the change in volume of an object and its original volume. It is also called bulk strain.Shear strain is equal to the ratio between the amount by which an object is skewed and its length. Compare stress. See more at Hooke's law.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.