Definition of abstain in US English:



[no object]
  • 1Restrain oneself from doing or enjoying something.

    ‘abstaining from chocolate’
    • ‘This summer sees the UK launch of the Silver Ring Thing - a programme which encourages teenagers to abstain from sex until marriage and rewards virginity with a ring to symbolise abstinence.’
    • ‘Dance said the society is trying to embrace all vegetarians, regardless of their reasons for abstaining from meat.’
    • ‘Elevated to such immortal status, he should finally consider abstaining from daily Namibian politics, instead of risking damaging his reputation further.’
    • ‘Medieval monastics sought to abstain from enjoying daily life, lest they prefer it to God.’
    • ‘To forgo the leisured lifestyle, to abstain from epicurean pleasures of over-indulgence, is no mean task.’
    • ‘We will review this after about six months and see if abstaining from interviews has in any way helped box office collections.’
    • ‘He doesn't anticipate abstaining from sex, however.’
    • ‘The class discusses getting a sponsor, abstaining from romantic relationships for at least a year after sobriety and the importance of attending 90 meetings in 90 days.’
    • ‘What we do (or abstain from doing) may influence the conditions of life of people in places we will never visit and of generations we will never know.’
    • ‘He said Anglicans would fast and may go on retreats this week, or go on a meatless diet, abstaining from meat on certain days.’
    • ‘One can overcome common allergies and other ailments by abstaining from non-vegetarian food.’
    • ‘In Shakespeare's play, the king of Navarre and his followers take an oath to spend three years fasting, studying and abstaining from sex.’
    • ‘We all know it's not an overwhelmingly popular choice for married people to abstain from sex before marriage and not to cohabitate, although it has been the norm in Western Civilization for most of history.’
    • ‘Well, ‘Vegans’ are vegetarians who abstain from eating or using any animal products, including milk, cheese, eggs and other items made from animal skin like silk or leather.’
    • ‘I've been abstaining from ebay a bit recently, saving money.’
    • ‘In earlier ages, Christians sought to purify themselves by abstaining from enjoyment, lest they enjoy material pleasure more than they enjoy God.’
    • ‘The payments were also dependent on regular attendance, abstaining from part-time work, and performing well at exams.’
    • ‘The fast Mr Trim intends to go on will not mean completely abstaining from food, but he would give up something for the 40-day period’
    • ‘Ash Wednesday is a day of Fast and Abstinence and Abstinence means abstaining from meat and meat dishes.’
    • ‘Jin joined the Qianjin Song & Dance Troupe as a boy of nine - he won the acceptance of his parents only after two days abstaining from food.’
    1. 1.1 Refrain from drinking alcohol.
      ‘most pregnant women abstain or drink very little’
      • ‘Almost 49 percent of U.S. adults abstain from alcohol use or drink fewer than 12 drinks per year.’
      • ‘However, adolescents who held more favorable attitudes toward drinking were relatively unaffected by the program and did not abstain or moderate their alcohol consumption.’
      • ‘Campbell was required to abstain from drinking alcohol and have no contact with three individuals.’
      • ‘A Danish study published last fall found that people who drank wine weekly or monthly were less likely to develop dementia than people who drank other alcoholic beverages or abstained.’
      • ‘Darren and Tom drank 4 bottles of wine while I abstained and painted the ceiling in the hall.’
      • ‘Whatever treatment alcoholics received in Project MATCH, few abstained for even a year.’
      • ‘Pregnant women have been urged to abstain from alcohol by scientists who claim that even small amounts can damage the development of a baby's brain.’
      • ‘Neither Tim nor I had ever sipped alcohol, and we had successfully lobbied Eric to abstain for the night.’
      • ‘All except two of the witnesses had abstained from drinking alcohol on the night of the attack, compared to the defendants, who it was clear had all ‘drunk far too much’.’
      • ‘The fully recovered individuals show symptoms of neither alcohol dependence nor alcohol abuse and either abstain or drink at levels below those known to increase relapse risk.’
      • ‘The alcoholic abstains from drinking; the compulsive gamble stops betting; the addict stops using.’
      • ‘The prime minister has also urged his citizens to abstain from drinking alcohol on election day to avoid violence and maintain the dignity of the event.’
      • ‘Overall mortality rates among wine drinkers are lower than for those who drink beer or alcohol, or for those who abstain, according to previous research.’
      • ‘It goes without saying that drivers should abstain or strictly control the amount they drink.’
      • ‘It is important to persuade the patient to abstain completely from alcohol.’
      • ‘Safe levels of alcohol consumption during pregnancy are not known; therefore, pregnant women are advised to abstain from drinking alcohol.’
      • ‘People who drank white wine in moderation had better lung function than people who abstained or drank other alcoholic beverages, according to a study in Pulmonary Medicine last year.’
      • ‘Young people, pregnant women and those who might worsen an already existing physical problem by drinking any alcohol are told to abstain.’
      • ‘Individuals who drink about those amounts live longer than those who abstain (one unit is equal to half a pint of beer, a glass of wine or a pub measure of spirit).’
      • ‘Maybe I was happy since I was drunk again after abstaining for a week.’
      refrain, desist, hold back, forbear, keep
      be teetotal, be a teetotaller, take the pledge
      View synonyms
  • 2Formally decline to vote either for or against a proposal or motion.

    ‘forty-one voted with the Opposition, and some sixty more abstained’
    • ‘One has to wonder if the workers, many of whom had given their all to the construction of the temple, were taken back by the news of the proposed sale and perhaps abstained from voting.’
    • ‘Also, a member state could abstain in a vote and make a formal declaration that it would not be bound by the vote.’
    • ‘But Labour and Conservatives abstained from voting on the idea because it was presented to them just ten minutes before the meeting started and they wanted the issue deferred to allow them time to consider it.’
    • ‘France, Germany and Mexico abstained in the vote because they objected to a clause in the resolution which exempts participating US troops from scrutiny by the International Criminal Court.’
    • ‘And yet the United States abstained in this vote.’
    • ‘Oxfam issued a press release with the results, stating that 2486 people voted against the mine, 35 voted in favor. 32 abstained and one blank vote was cast.’
    • ‘Ms Campbell was a key campaigner against top-up fees, but was heavily criticised by students after abstaining in the final vote in the Commons.’
    • ‘France first holds up the vote and then abstains, as do Russia, China, and Malaysia.’
    • ‘Germany and Romania abstained from the vote, and so did the UK - even after its Foreign Secretary Jack Straw earlier in the week, condemned the killing.’
    • ‘Nobody is going to veto, but enough nations look to be abstaining that the vote will fail.’
    • ‘Pius IX had already refused to recognize the legitimacy of the Kingdom of Italy; and Catholics had been formally enjoined to abstain from voting in national elections.’
    • ‘When members of the House were called to vote on the privatisation, the Liberal Member for Hume, Alby Schultz, abstained and refused to show, making sure the world knew why.’
    • ‘Perhaps the real problem that the election outcome raised is that a significant number of voters expressed their discontent and mistrust in the theocracy by abstaining from casting their ballots.’
    • ‘In Monday's votes, Labor legislators abstained, allowing the motions to be defeated.’
    • ‘The US administration may also have abstained to avoid embarrassing its close ally Britain, which is a signatory to the ICC.’
    • ‘Given little notice, the council still voted on the issue, resulting in a vote of eight people in favour of overturning the disclaimer; no one disagreed with the motion and three abstained from voting.’
    • ‘Cllr Moloney either abstained or voted against the zoning proposals in each of the areas.’
    • ‘Meanwhile, Petway abstained from voting on the proposed incentives, declaring a conflict of interest.’
    • ‘One in seven Labour MPs defied the whip by voting against or abstaining.’
    • ‘Former teacher Jeff Ennis, MP for Barnsley East and Mexborough, surprised some by signalling his determination to rebel either by a positive vote against or by abstaining.’
    not vote, decline to vote, refuse to vote
    View synonyms


Late Middle English: from Old French abstenir, from Latin abstinere, from ab- ‘from’ + tenere ‘hold’.