Open main menu

Wiktionary β




First attested around 1380. From Middle English abstene, absteine, absteynen, absteinen, abstenen, from Old French astenir, abstenir, from Latin abstineō (to hold oneself back) from abs- (from) + teneō (I hold). See also tenable.



abstain (third-person singular simple present abstains, present participle abstaining, simple past and past participle abstained)

  1. (transitive, reflexive, obsolete) Keep or withhold oneself. [Attested from around 1350 to 1470 until the mid 16th century.][1]
  2. (intransitive) Refrain from (something); hold oneself aloof; to forbear or keep from doing, especially an indulgence of the passions or appetites. [First attested around 1350 to 1470.][1]
    • (Can we date this quote?), Shakespeare, Richard II, II-i:
      Who abstains from meat that is not gaunt?
  3. (intransitive, obsolete) Fast. [First attested around 1350 to 1470.][1]
  4. (intransitive) Deliberately refrain from casting one's vote at a meeting where one is present. [First attested around 1350 to 1470.][1]
  5. (transitive, obsolete) Hinder; keep back; withhold. [Attested from the early 16th century until the mid 17th century.][1]
    • (Can we date this quote?), John Milton, (Please provide the book title or journal name):
      Whether he abstain men from marying [sic].

Usage notesEdit

  • (keep or withhold oneself): Followed by the word from or of.
  • (refrain from something): Followed by the word from.



Derived termsEdit

Related termsEdit


The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables, removing any numbers. Numbers do not necessarily match those in definitions. See instructions at Wiktionary:Entry layout#Translations.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 “abstain” in Lesley Brown, editor-in-chief; William R. Trumble and Angus Stevenson, editors, The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary on Historical Principles, 5th edition, Oxford; New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press, 2002, ISBN 978-0-19-860457-0, page 9.