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From Old French detenir. Cognate with Italian detenere, Portuguese deter, Romanian deține, and Spanish detener.


  • (UK) IPA(key): /dɪˈteɪn/
  • (file)
  • Rhymes: -eɪn


detain (third-person singular simple present detains, present participle detaining, simple past and past participle detained)

  1. (transitive) To keep someone from proceeding by holding them back or making claims on their attention.
  2. (transitive, law enforcement) To put under custody.
    • 2021 August 16, “Exploring the SCP Foundation: SCP-6002 - All Creatures Great and Small” (19:06 from the start), in The Exploring Series[1], archived from the original on 10 January 2023:
      In April of 2009, however, the disease was found to suddenly no longer be appearing in newly-hatched chickens, and, upon review, it was discovered that Dr. Wildcat had modified 6002 without authorization, removing the disease from the genome. She's detained and questioned by Muller, and, even though she tries to lie that she didn't do anything, they have footage of her ascending the tree on her own.
  3. (transitive) To keep back or from; to withhold.
    • 1651, Jer[emy] Taylor, The Rule and Exercises of Holy Living. [], 2nd edition, London: [] Francis Ashe [], →OCLC:
      Detain not the wages of the hireling.
  4. (transitive) To seize goods for official purposes.

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