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.
    • 1667, John Milton, “Book 5”, in Paradise Lost. A Poem Written in Ten Books, London: Printed [by Samuel Simmons], and are to be sold by Peter Parker [] [a]nd by Robert Boulter [] [a]nd Matthias Walker, [], OCLC 228722708; republished as Paradise Lost in Ten Books: The Text Exactly Reproduced from the First Edition of 1667: [], London: Basil Montagu Pickering [], 1873, OCLC 230729554:
      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.
    • 1705 (revised 1718), Joseph Addison, Remarks on Several Parts of Italy
      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. (transitive, education) To hold back (a pupil) instead of allowing them to advance to the next class or year.
  6. (obsolete) To restrain; to prevent.
    (Can we find and add a quotation of Sir W. Temple to this entry?)
  7. (intransitive, obsolete) To belong; to pertain.
    • (Can we date this quote by Boyle and provide title, author’s full name, and other details?)
      A somewhat languid relish, retaining to bitterness.


Related termsEdit