From Middle English susteinen, sustenen, from Old French sustenir (French soutenir), from Latin sustineō, sustinēre (to uphold), from sub- (from below, up) + teneō (hold, verb).


  • IPA(key): /səˈsteɪn/
  • Hyphenation: sus‧tain
  • (file)
  • Rhymes: -eɪn


sustain (third-person singular simple present sustains, present participle sustaining, simple past and past participle sustained)

  1. (transitive) To maintain, or keep in existence.
    The professor had trouble sustaining students’ interest until the end of her lectures.
    The city came under sustained attack by enemy forces.
    • 1949, George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Part Two, Chapter 9,[1]
      All the beliefs, habits, tastes, emotions, mental attitudes that characterize our time are really designed to sustain the mystique of the Party and prevent the true nature of present-day society from being perceived.
  2. (transitive) To provide for or nourish.
    provisions to sustain an army
    • 1611, King James Version of the Bible, Nehemiah 9:21,[2]
      Yea, forty years didst thou sustain them in the wilderness, so that they lacked nothing; their clothes waxed not old, and their feet swelled not.
    • 1937, Robert Byron, The Road to Oxiana, London: Macmillan, Part 2, p. 59,[3]
      We rode five farsakhs today, sustained by a single bowl of curds and tortured by the wooden saddles.
  3. (transitive) To encourage or sanction (something). (The addition of quotations indicative of this usage is being sought:)
  4. (transitive) To experience or suffer (an injury, etc.).
    The building sustained major damage in the earthquake.
    • c. 1612, William Shakespeare and John Fletcher, Henry VIII, Act III, Scene 2,[4]
      [] if you omit
      The offer of this time, I cannot promise
      But that you shall sustain moe new disgraces,
      With these you bear already.
    • 1697, John Dryden (translator), The Aeneid, Book 7, lines 592-593, in The Works of Virgil, London: Jacob Tonson, p. 418,[5]
      Shall Turnus then such endless Toil sustain,
      In fighting Fields, and conquer Towns in vain:
  5. (transitive) To confirm, prove, or corroborate; to uphold.
    to sustain a charge, an accusation, or a proposition
  6. To keep from falling; to bear; to uphold; to support.
    A foundation sustains the superstructure; an animal sustains a load; a rope sustains a weight.
  7. To aid, comfort, or relieve; to vindicate.
    • c. 1605, William Shakespeare, King Lear, Act III, Scene 3,[7]
      When I desir’d their leave that I might pity him, they took from me the use of mine own house, charg’d me on pain of perpetual displeasure neither to speak of him, entreat for him, nor any way sustain him.
    • 1697, John Dryden (translator), The Aeneid, Book 6, lines 1122-1123, in The Works of Virgil, London: Jacob Tonson, p. 395,[8]
      His Sons, who seek the Tyrant to sustain,
      And long for Arbitrary Lords again,

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sustain (plural sustains)

  1. (music) A mechanism which can be used to hold a note, as the right pedal on a piano.
    • 2011, Chuck Eddy, Rock and Roll Always Forgets (page 265)
      To call this music bland is to ignore the down-the-drain vocal fade-aways, the extended sax sustains []