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Etymology 1[edit]

From Late Middle English retracten, retract (to absorb, draw in),[1] from Latin retractus (withdrawn), the perfect passive participle of Latin retrahō (to draw or pull back, withdraw; to bring back; to compel to turn back; to recall; to get back, recover; to hold back, restrain, withhold; to remove, take away; to bring to light again; (Late Latin) to delay), from re- (prefix meaning ‘again’) + trahō (to drag, pull; to extract, withdraw)[2][3] (apparently ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *tregʰ- (to drag, pull (?)), a variant of *dʰregʰ- (to drag, pull; to run)). Doublet of retreat.


retract (third-person singular simple present retracts, present participle retracting, simple past and past participle retracted)

  1. (transitive)
    1. To pull (something) back or back inside.
      Synonym: pull back
      An airplane retracts its wheels for flight.
      • 1962 June, “The Design of the S.R. Electro-diesels”, in Modern Railways, Shepperton, Surrey: Ian Allen Publishing, →ISSN, →OCLC, page 393:
        The collector shoes are automatically retracted when the electric handle is moved from "service off" to "lock off".
      1. (specifically, zoology) To draw (an extended body part) back into the body.
        Antonyms: extend, protrude
        A cat can retract its claws.
    2. (rare) To avert (one's eyes or a gaze).
    3. (phonetics) To pronounce (a sound, especially a vowel) farther to the back of the vocal tract.
    4. (obsolete) To hold back (something); to restrain.
  2. (intransitive) To draw back; to draw up; to withdraw.
    The bus was stuck at the stop as its wheelchair ramp wouldn’t retract after use.
    Muscles retract after amputation.
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Related terms[edit]

Etymology 2[edit]



retract (plural retracts) (obsolete)

  1. An act of retracting or withdrawing (a mistake, a statement, etc.); a retraction.
    • 1603, Plutarch, “Why the Prophetesse Pythia Giveth No Answers Now from the Oracle in Verse or Meeter”, in Philemon Holland, transl., The Philosophie, Commonlie Called, The Morals [], London: [] Arnold Hatfield, →OCLC, page 1199A:
      [T]hey began to finde fault with Poeſie, [] ſaying, that metaphors æmigmaticall, and covert words, yea and the ambiguities which Poetry uſeth, were but ſhifts, retracts, and evaſions to hide and cover all, whenſoever the events fell not out accordingly.
  2. A pulling back, especially (military) of an army or military troops; a pull-back, a retreat; also, a signal for this to be done.
    • 1614, Walter Ralegh [i.e., Walter Raleigh], “Of Alexander the Great”, in The Historie of the World [], London: [] William Stansby for Walter Burre, [], →OCLC, 4th book, §. IIII (Of the Vnwarlike Armie Leauied by Darivs against Alexander. []), page 179:
      Theſe Græcians alſo that made the retract, aduiſed Darius [III] to retire his Armie into the plaine of Meſopotamia, to the end that Alexander being entred into thoſe large fields and great Champions, he might haue inuironed the Macedonians on all ſides with his multitude; []
  3. Synonym of retreat (an act of accidentally injuring a horse's foot by incorrectly nailing it during shoeing)
Derived terms[edit]

Etymology 3[edit]

From Middle French rétracter (to annul; to reconsider; to withdraw) (modern French rétracter (to retract; to contract)), and from its etymon Latin retractāre, the present active infinitive of retractō (to retract, withdraw; to annul, revoke; to detract from; to undertake again; to reconsider; to remember; to decline, refuse), from re- (prefix meaning ‘again’) + tractō (to drag, haul, tug) (from trahō (to drag, pull; to extract, withdraw) (see further at etymology 1) + -tō (frequentative suffix forming verbs)).[3][5]


retract (third-person singular simple present retracts, present participle retracting, simple past and past participle retracted)

  1. (transitive)
    1. To cancel or take back (something, such as an edict or a favour or grant previously bestowed); to rescind, to revoke.
      • 1729, J[ohn] Woodward, “Preface to the Whole”, in An Attempt towards a Natural History of the Fossils of England; [], tome I, London: [] F[rancis] Fayram, []; J[ohn] Senex, []; and J. Osborn and T[homas] Longman, [], →OCLC, part II (A Catalogue of the English Fossils in the Collection of J. Woodward []), page 6:
        Fill'd with the Satisfaction of their own diſcerning Faculties, they [natural history writers] paſs Judgment at firſt ſight; write on, and are above being ever brought to retract it.
    2. To break or fail to keep (a promise, etc.); to renege.
    3. To take back or withdraw (something that has been said or written); to disavow, to repudiate.
      Synonyms: unsay, (rare) unspeak, walk back, withcall, withdraw; see also Thesaurus:recant
      Antonyms: affirm, confirm, maintain
      I retract all the accusations I made about the senator and sincerely hope he won’t sue me.
      • 1671, Edward Stillingfleet, A Discourse Concerning the Idolatry Practised in the Church of Rome, [], 2nd edition, London: [] Robert White for Henry Mortlock [], →OCLC, page 363:
        And yet this Pope himſelf, not many years after, retracted this Bull; []
      • 1710, [George Granville, 1st Baron Lansdowne], “The British Enchanters; or, No Magick Like Love. A Dramatick Poem. []”, in Poems upon Several Occasions, London: [] J[acob] Tonson [], published 1712, →OCLC, act I, scene i, page 195:
        She will, and ſhe will not; ſhe grants, denies, / Conſents, retracts, advances, and then flies, / Approving and rejecting in a Breath, / Now proff'ring Mercy, now preſenting Death!
      • 2022 October 26, Cade Metz, Adam Satariano, Chang Che, “How Elon Musk Became a Geopolitical Chaos Agent”, in The New York Times[1], →ISSN:
        He has also suggested in a newspaper interview that China could be appeased if it were given partial control of Taiwan. An official in Taipei demanded that he retract his suggestion.
    4. (games) Originally in chess and now in other games as well: to take back or undo (a move); specifically (card games) to take back or withdraw (a card which has been played).
  2. (intransitive)
    1. To decline or fail to do something promised; to break one's word.
    2. Of something said or written (such as published academic work): to take back or withdraw.
      • 1912, Arthur Conan Doyle, “‘‘Try Your Luck with Professor Challenger’’”, in The Lost World [], London, New York, N.Y.: Hodder and Stoughton, →OCLC, page 23:
        "Challenger was the man who came with some cock-and-bull story from South America." / "What story?" / "Oh, it was rank nonsense about some queer animals he had discovered. I believe he has retracted since. Anyhow, he has suppressed it all. He gave an interview to Reuter's, and there was such a howl that he saw it wouldn't do.["]
    3. (card games, archaic) To change one's mind after declaring an intention to make a certain move.
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Related terms[edit]
See also[edit]


  1. ^ retracten, v.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
  2. ^ retract, v.1”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, September 2021.
  3. 3.0 3.1 retract, v.”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.
  4. ^ † retract, n.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, March 2021.
  5. ^ retract, v.2”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, June 2021.

Further reading[edit]