When you detain someone, you hold them back, slow them down, or stop them from moving on. If you are detained by the police, you may be late for the big football game, even if you were speeding to get there by the kickoff.

There are lots of words that contain the root tain, like contain and retain. These come from Latin tenere, which means "to hold." Detain is specifically used when you're talking about holding someone so they can't go anywhere. It's often used in discussions involving the police who detain people who they think might be guilty. But you can use detain, say, when you're explaining why you were late: "I was detained at the office by a conference call that wouldn't end. Sorry."

Definitions of detain

v cause to be slowed down or delayed

delay, hold up
hurry, rush
urge to an unnatural speed
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engage in delaying tactics or refuse to cooperate
delay or hold up; prevent from proceeding on schedule or as planned
deliberately delay an event or action
buy time
act so as to delay an event or action in order to gain an advantage
Type of:
decelerate, retard, slow, slow down, slow up
lose velocity; move more slowly

v stop or halt

delay, stay
Type of:
check, delay, retard
slow the growth or development of

v deprive of freedom; take into confinement

free, liberate, loose, release, unloose, unloosen
grant freedom to; free from confinement
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hold and prevent from leaving
squeeze together
gaol, immure, imprison, incarcerate, jail, jug, lag, put away, put behind bars, remand
lock up or confine, in or as in a jail
deprive of freedom
bind over
order a defendant to be placed in custody pending the outcome of a proceedings against him or her
confine as if in a prison
cage, cage in
confine in a cage
pin down, trap
place in a confining or embarrassing position
keep in
cause to stay indoors

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