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[dih-teyn] /dɪˈteɪn/
verb (used with object)
to keep from proceeding; keep waiting; delay.
to keep under restraint or in custody.
Obsolete. to keep back or withhold, as from a person.
Origin of detain
1480-90; detainen < Anglo-French, Old French detenir < Vulgar Latin *dētenīre, for Latin dētinēre, equivalent to dē- de- + -tinēre, combining form of tenēre to hold
Related forms
detainable, adjective
detainment, noun
predetain, verb (used with object)
undetainable, adjective
undetained, adjective
1. retard, stop, slow, stay, check. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for detain
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • Margaret still held the King's hand, and sought to detain him.

    Two Penniless Princesses Charlotte M. Yonge
  • What he had to say therefore on the subject would not detain them long.

  • You want to get away from this, I suppose; and as nobody wants to detain you, the thing is easy enough.

    A Day's Ride Charles James Lever
  • Mrs. Menotti tried to detain him; she could not understand what was amiss.

    Rico and Wiseli Johanna Spyri
  • To the other priests and his wife who sought to detain him, he had answered, "Where the flock is there should the shepherd be!"

    Homo Sum, Complete Georg Ebers
British Dictionary definitions for detain


verb (transitive)
to delay; hold back; stop
to confine or hold in custody; restrain
(archaic) to retain or withhold
Derived Forms
detainable, adjective
detainee (ˌdiːteɪˈniː) noun
detainment, noun
Word Origin
C15: from Old French detenir, from Latin dētinēre to hold off, keep back, from de- + tenēre to hold
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
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Word Origin and History for detain

early 15c., deteynen, from Old French detenir "to hold off, keep back" (12c.), from Latin detinere "hold off, keep back," from de- "from, away" (see de-) + tenere "to hold" (see tenet). Modern spelling is 17c., from influence of contain, retain, etc. Related: Detained; detaining.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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