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From Middle French, Old French retenir, from Vulgar Latin *retinīre, from Latin retineō (hold back), from re- + teneō (to hold)


  • IPA(key): /ɹɪˈteɪn/
  • Hyphenation: re‧tain
  • (file)
  • Rhymes: -eɪn


retain (third-person singular simple present retains, present participle retaining, simple past and past participle retained)

  1. (transitive) To keep in possession or use.
    • 1596, [attributed to William Shakespeare; Thomas Kyd], The Raigne of King Edvvard the Third: [], London: [] [T. Scarlet] for Cuthbert Burby, OCLC 1203266930, [Act I, scene i]:
      Robert of Artoys baniſht though thou be, / From Fraunce thy natiue Country, yet with vs, / Thou ſhalt retayne as great a Seigniorie: / For we create thee Earle of Richmond heere, [...]
    • 1667, John Milton, “Book V”, in Paradise Lost. A Poem Written in Ten Books, London: [] [Samuel Simmons], [], OCLC 228722708; republished as Paradise Lost in Ten Books: [], London: Basil Montagu Pickering [], 1873, OCLC 230729554:
      Be obedient, and retain / Unalterably firm his love entire.
    • 1886, Eleanor Marx-Aveling (translator), Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary, first published 1856, Part III Chapter XI
      A strange thing was that Bovary, while continually thinking of Emma, was forgetting her. He grew desperate as he felt this image fading from his memory in spite of all efforts to retain it. Yet every night he dreamt of her; it was always the same dream. He drew near her, but when he was about to clasp her she fell into decay in his arms.
    • 1961 October, “Talking of Trains: Metropolitan service revised”, in Trains Illustrated, page 584:
      The electric locomotives, which have been a familiar sight for so many years, are to be withdrawn from passenger service, but a few will be retained for miscellaneous non-passenger duties.
    • 1963, Margery Allingham, chapter 1, in The China Governess[1]:
      The original family who had begun to build a palace to rival Nonesuch had died out before they had put up little more than the gateway, so that the actual structure which had come down to posterity retained the secret magic of a promise rather than the overpowering splendour of a great architectural achievement.
  2. (transitive) To keep in one's pay or service.
    • 1705, J[oseph] Addison, Remarks on Several Parts of Italy, &c. in the Years 1701, 1702, 1703, London: [] Jacob Tonson, [], OCLC 1051505315:
      A Benedictine convent has now retained the most learned father of their order to write in its defence.}}
  3. (transitive) To employ by paying a retainer.
  4. (transitive) To hold secure.
  5. (transitive, education) To hold back (a pupil) instead of allowing them to advance to the next class or year.
  6. (obsolete) To restrain; to prevent.
  7. (intransitive, obsolete) To belong; to pertain.
    • 1661, Robert Boyle, A Physico-chemical Essay, Containing an Experiment Touching the Differing Parts and. Redintegration of Salt-Petre
      A somewhat languid relish, retaining to bitterness.


Related terms[edit]