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ab·sti·nence (ăbstə-nəns)
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n.
The act or practice of refraining from indulging an appetite or desire, especially for alcoholic drink or sexual intercourse.

[Middle English, from Old French abstenance, from Latin abstinentia, from abstinēns, abstinent-, present participle of abstinēre, to hold back; see ABSTAIN.]

absti·nent adj.
absti·nent·ly adv.

Synonyms: abstinence, self-denial, temperance, sobriety, continence
These nouns refer to the habitual refusal to indulge a desire, especially a sensual one. Abstinence implies the willful avoidance of pleasures, especially of food and drink, thought to be harmful or self-indulgent: "I vainly reminded him of his protracted abstinence from food" (Emily Brontë).
Self-denial suggests resisting one's own desires for the achievement of a higher goal: "For too many people, the result of sedentary living is a perennial, losing battle against the bulge: bursts of self-denial interspersed with guilt when self-denial inevitably leads to self-indulgence" (Jane Brody).
Temperance refers to moderation and self-restraint and sobriety to gravity in bearing, manner, or treatment; both nouns denote moderation in or abstinence from consuming alcohol: Teetotalers preach temperance for everyone. "[T]hose moments which would come between the subsidence of actual sobriety and the commencement of intoxication" (Anthony Trollope).
Continence specifically refers to abstaining from sexual activity: The nun took a vow of continence.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2019 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
 

Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices

    Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:

    Indo-European Roots

    Semitic Roots

    The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.

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