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From Middle French, Old French retenir, from Vulgar Latin *retinīre, from Latin retineō (hold back), from re- + teneō (to hold)


  • IPA(key): /ɹɪˈteɪn/
  • Hyphenation: re‧tain
  • (file)
  • Rhymes: -eɪn


retain (third-person singular simple present retains, present participle retaining, simple past and past participle retained)

  1. (transitive) To keep in possession or use.
    • (Can we date this quote?) John Milton
      Be obedient, and retain / Unalterably firm his love entire.
    • 1886, Eleanor Marx-Aveling (translator), Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary, first published 1856, Part III Chapter XI
      A strange thing was that Bovary, while continually thinking of Emma, was forgetting her. He grew desperate as he felt this image fading from his memory in spite of all efforts to retain it. Yet every night he dreamt of her; it was always the same dream. He drew near her, but when he was about to clasp her she fell into decay in his arms.
    • 1963, Margery Allingham, chapter 1, in The China Governess[1]:
      The original family who had begun to build a palace to rival Nonesuch had died out before they had put up little more than the gateway, so that the actual structure which had come down to posterity retained the secret magic of a promise rather than the overpowering splendour of a great architectural achievement.
  2. (transitive) To keep in one's pay or service.
    • (Can we date this quote?) Addison
      A Benedictine convent has now retained the most learned father of their order to write in its defence.
  3. (transitive) To employ by paying a retainer.
  4. (transitive) To hold secure.
  5. (obsolete) To restrain; to prevent.
    (Can we find and add a quotation of Sir W. Temple to this entry?)
  6. (obsolete) To belong; to pertain.
    • (Can we date this quote?) Boyle
      A somewhat languid relish, retaining to bitterness.


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