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[ri-freyn] /rɪˈfreɪn/
verb (used without object)
to abstain from an impulse to say or do something (often followed by from):
I refrained from telling him what I thought.
verb (used with object)
Archaic. to curb.
Origin of refrain1
1300-50; Middle English refreinen < Old French refrener < Latin refrēnāre to bridle, equivalent to re- re- + frēn(um) bridle + -āre infinitive suffix
Related forms
refrainer, noun
refrainment, noun
unrefrained, adjective
unrefraining, adjective
Can be confused
refrain, restrain.
1. forbear, desist.


[ri-freyn] /rɪˈfreɪn/
a phrase or verse recurring at intervals in a song or poem, especially at the end of each stanza; chorus.
  1. a musical setting for the refrain of a poem.
  2. any melody.
  3. the principal, recurrent section of a rondo.
1325-75; Middle English refreyne < Old French refrain, derivative of refraindre to break sequence < Vulgar Latin *refrangere, for Latin refringere to refract Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for refrain
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • I think it necessary to refrain from doing so, but sometimes I grow forgetful.

    A New Sensation Albert Ross
  • Notwithstanding her firm determination to forget him, she could not refrain from questioning them about him.

    The Dream Emile Zola
  • I cannot refrain from giving my readers the very Grecian names of my kind entertainers.

    Cyprus Franz von Lher
  • These mince pies may be eaten by persons who refrain from meat in Lent.

  • Feriz Beg could not refrain from shaking his head and smiling.

British Dictionary definitions for refrain


(intransitive) usually foll by from. to abstain (from action); forbear
Derived Forms
refrainer, noun
refrainment, noun
Word Origin
C14: from Latin refrēnāre to check with a bridle, from re- + frēnum a bridle


a regularly recurring melody, such as the chorus of a song
a much repeated saying or idea
Word Origin
C14: via Old French, ultimately from Latin refringere to break into pieces
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 refrain

mid-14c., from Old French refraigner "restrain, repress, keep in check" (12c., Modern French Réfréner), from Latin refrenare "to bridle, hold in with a bit, check, curb, keep down, control," from re- "back" (see re-) + frenare "restrain, furnish with a bridle," from frenum "a bridle." Related: Refrained; refraining.


late 14c., from Old French refrain "chorus" (13c.), alteration of refrait, noun use of past participle of refraindre "repeat," also "break off," from Vulgar Latin *refrangere "break off," alteration of Latin refringere "break up, break open" (see refraction) by influence of frangere "to break." Influenced in French by cognate Provençal refranhar "singing of birds, refrain." The notion is of something that causes a song to "break off" then resume. OED says not common before 19c.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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refrain in Culture

refrain definition

In some pieces of verse, a set of words repeated at the end of each stanza.

The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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