Refrain and restrain


  • Lifestyle
  • Thursday, 08 Jul 2010

THE verbs “refrain” and “restrain” look similar, sound similar and – this is where the trap lies – have a similar meaning. As a result, one often hears or sees “refrain” mistakenly used in place of restrain. My most recent encounter was in the lead article on Page 1 of StarBiz (June 17). The word appeared in the this partial sentence: “The move is to refrain X (person’s name) from using ...”

I lack or have forgotten the clinical language tools to dissect the two words – I know you will fill them in for me – but, basically, “refrain” does not take an object and denotes a voluntary action (e.g. I am doing my best to refrain from smoking), while “restrain” takes an object and is usually involuntary (e.g. my wife restrains me from smoking by hiding my cigarettes). – I.Ho

You’re quite right in your distinction between “refrain” and “restrain”, and your examples make it clear. “Refrain” is an intransitive verb which does not have an object, while “restrain” is a transitive verb which has an object. – Fadzilah Amin


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