Definition of detain in English:



  • 1 Keep (someone) from proceeding; hold back.

    ‘she made to open the door, but he detained her’
    • ‘As I say, I wasn't detained by the characters' opinions.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Many people will think that this question need not detain us for more than a moment: the answer is yes.’
    • ‘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.’
    delay, hold up, make late, retard, slow up, slow down, set back, get bogged down
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1Keep (someone) in official custody, typically for questioning about a crime or in politically sensitive situations.
      ‘she was detained without trial for two years’
      • ‘They were briefly detained by police, then released without charge.’
      • ‘The three guards were detained and questioned, after which the security firm suspended one pending the outcome of the inquiry.’
      • ‘If people are unlawfully detained, they have a right to be free?’
      • ‘They argued that I was being unlawfully detained in prison as a result of the Stafford ruling.’
      • ‘He was detained and questioned by UK Police, who used their powers under the Anti-Terrorism laws to do so.’
      • ‘Because he was not detained in custody after 10th April, he continued to offend.’
      • ‘The military claimed they were detaining him because of ‘inconsistencies in his initial testimony.’’
      • ‘The waiter was detained for further questioning to make sure he was not in possession of other stolen property.’
      • ‘There has been a very huge difference between actually arresting someone and detaining him for questioning.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘Over 50 fans were arrested and 15 of them were detained in custody.’
      • ‘A second suspected militant was also detained by Italian police, they said.’
      • ‘Officers confiscated medical instruments and blood stained linen as evidence and detained both women for questioning.’
      • ‘The ten men were originally detained without trial for two years in Belmarsh prison.’
      • ‘No child could be detained for a lengthy period of time without an order from juvenile court.’
      • ‘Two brothers who once were detained in connection with the case are now back in jail.’
      • ‘Because of poverty, the suspects are detained for 143 days on average before a court appearance.’
      • ‘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.’


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.