Definition of detain in English:



  • 1 Keep (someone) from proceeding by holding them back or making claims on their attention.

    ‘she made to open the door, but he detained her’
    • ‘It appeared to be pointing in my direction to scare me away and stop me detaining him.’
    • ‘Insofar as form and language detain him, they detain him as questions of ideology.’
    • ‘Freddie was passed down the line, each diver detaining him to take their turn.’
    • ‘A machine detains you for only a moment and then a pleasant live operator will thank you for saying ‘I oppose’ (or ‘I approve of’) of the proposed War against Iraq.’
    • ‘Many people will think that this question need not detain us for more than a moment: the answer is yes.’
    • ‘As I say, I wasn't detained by the characters' opinions.’
    delay, hold up, make late, retard, slow up, slow down, set back, get bogged down
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    1. 1.1Keep (someone) in official custody, typically for questioning about a crime or in a politically sensitive situation.
      ‘she was detained without trial for two years’
      • ‘The waiter was detained for further questioning to make sure he was not in possession of other stolen property.’
      • ‘Over 50 fans were arrested and 15 of them were detained in custody.’
      • ‘The claimant may also expect to discover whether the custody officer who detained him did so from a genuine belief in the need so to act, or from some ulterior motive.’
      • ‘Two brothers who once were detained in connection with the case are now back in jail.’
      • ‘He was detained and questioned by UK Police, who used their powers under the Anti-Terrorism laws to do so.’
      • ‘Because of poverty, the suspects are detained for 143 days on average before a court appearance.’
      • ‘The ten men were originally detained without trial for two years in Belmarsh prison.’
      • ‘They were briefly detained by police, then released without charge.’
      • ‘No child could be detained for a lengthy period of time without an order from juvenile court.’
      • ‘Indeed, that judge may be inclined to put pressure on a suspect by deciding to detain him in police custody for the purpose of questioning.’
      • ‘Officers confiscated medical instruments and blood stained linen as evidence and detained both women for questioning.’
      • ‘Singh says he was detained for three hours until his friends could bail him out.’
      • ‘More than five weeks later, on August 14, Mitchell was detained for questioning but was released later that day without charge.’
      • ‘Because he was not detained in custody after 10th April, he continued to offend.’
      • ‘If people are unlawfully detained, they have a right to be free?’
      • ‘The military claimed they were detaining him because of ‘inconsistencies in his initial testimony.’’
      • ‘There has been a very huge difference between actually arresting someone and detaining him for questioning.’
      • ‘The three guards were detained and questioned, after which the security firm suspended one pending the outcome of the inquiry.’
      • ‘A second suspected militant was also detained by Italian police, they said.’
      • ‘They argued that I was being unlawfully detained in prison as a result of the Stafford ruling.’
      imprison, jail, incarcerate, send to prison, put behind bars, put under lock and key, put in chains, put into irons, throw into irons, clap in irons, hold captive
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    2. 1.2Officially seize and hold (goods)
      ‘customs officers may detain goods for up to two days’
      • ‘The goods were detained again at customs for lack of certain import papers.’
      • ‘Inspecting premises such as restaurants, pubs, and food factories, detaining and seizing suspect food and investigating possible food poisoning outbreaks are all part of the job.’
      • ‘The reference to detention (my emphasis) appear to show that the Customs had a right to detain goods at any rate if their true value had not been declared.’
      • ‘He came to England to try to obtain an award from the Board of Longitude but his instruments were detained by the Customs as he entered the country.’
      • ‘It was detained by customs at the border post and delayed.’
      hold, take into custody, put into custody, place in custody, remand in custody, hold in custody, keep in custody, seize, confine, imprison, lock up, put in jail, put behind bars, incarcerate, impound, intern, restrain, arrest, apprehend
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Late Middle English (in the sense ‘be afflicted with sickness or infirmity’): from Old French detenir, from a variant of Latin detinere, from de- away, aside + tenere to hold.