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From Middle English, borrowed from Old French contenir, from Latin continēre (to hold or keep together, comprise, contain), combined form of con- (together) + teneō (to hold).


  • enPR: kən-tānʹ, IPA(key): /kənˈteɪn/
  • (file)
  • Rhymes: -eɪn
  • Hyphenation: con‧tain


contain (third-person singular simple present contains, present participle containing, simple past and past participle contained)

  1. (transitive) To hold inside.
    The brown box contains three stacks of books.
    • 1892, Walter Besant, chapter III, in The Ivory Gate [], New York, N.Y.: Harper & Brothers, [], →OCLC:
      At half-past nine on this Saturday evening, the parlour of the Salutation Inn, High Holborn, contained most of its customary visitors. [] In former days every tavern of repute kept such a room for its own select circle, a club, or society, of habitués, who met every evening, for a pipe and a cheerful glass.
    • 2013 July 20, “Welcome to the plastisphere”, in The Economist, volume 408, number 8845:
      [The researchers] noticed many of their pieces of [plastic marine] debris sported surface pits around two microns across. Such pits are about the size of a bacterial cell. Closer examination showed that some of these pits did, indeed, contain bacteria, [].
  2. (transitive) To include as a part.
    Most of the meals they offer contain meat.
    • 2014 April 21, “Subtle effects”, in The Economist, volume 411, number 8884:
      Manganism has been known about since the 19th century, when miners exposed to ores containing manganese, a silvery metal, began to totter, slur their speech and behave like someone inebriated.
  3. (transitive) To put constraints upon; to restrain; to confine; to keep within bounds.
    I'm so excited, I can hardly contain myself!
  4. (mathematics, of a set etc., transitive) To have as an element or subset.
    A group contains a unique inverse for each of its elements.
    If that subgraph contains the vertex in question then it must be spanning.
  5. (obsolete, intransitive) To restrain desire; to live in continence or chastity.

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