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    #1

    abstain, refrain

    Is there any difference between to abstain from sth and to refrain from sth? (I want to get my NY resolutions right

  1. #2

    Re: abstain, refrain

    Quote Originally Posted by magdalena View Post
    Is there any difference between to abstain from sth and to refrain from sth? (I want to get my NY resolutions right
    My answer will be incomplete and not wholly satisfactory, so I hope others will post their insights into this difficult question. Here's my input.

    "Refrain" carries a stronger suggestion that the thing you won't be doing is something bad, unhealthy, wasteful.

    I'll refrain from criticizing my children.
    I'm going to refrain from eating junk food.
    I'll try to refrain from wasting too much time.

    "Abstain" is common in two usages:
    1. A legislator abstains from voting if he is present but does not support either side of a question. Often at the United Nations, the United States abstains on Security Council resolutions which condemn Israel.
    2, Abstain, especially in the noun form "abstinence" often refers to sex. Abstinence has been recommending as a means of avoiding pregnancy or AIDS.

    But as far as I can tell, abstain can be used as a synonym of refrain, with little difference in meaning. I feel that "refrain" carries a stronger suggestion that what you're not going to do is a bad or harmful thing. But
    a peek at the dictionary and google convinced me that there's no clear rule on how to differentiate between the two, in either defining them or using them. Refrain is certainly the more common word.

    Can our Anglo scholars add to this?
    edward


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    #3

    Re: abstain, refrain

    Without looking at the dictionary, I'll stick my neck out to say that "abstain," except in the sense of voting baqarah mentioned above, is not used to describe a single occurrence. In other words, you would say that when your sister-in-law displayed her usual lack of tact in criticizing your new dress, you refrained (not abstained) from telling her what you thought of her, in the interest of preserving family peace. Also, "abstain" is used more often to describe a long-term commitment to avoiding something, as in sex (also mentioned by baqarah), drinking alcohol, etc. Thus, "I promised my mother I would abstain from drinking hard liquor, and I've kept my word, even though she's been dead for twenty years," but, "I try to refrain from drinking if I'm already feeling tired, or if I know I'll have to get up early the next morning."

    [not a teacher]

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    #4

    Re: abstain, refrain

    I think both Baqarah131 and Delmobile explained the difference aptly. In addition:
    Sometimes going to the origin of a word helps to understand the difference. The two words are of Latin origin:

    Refrain is from lat. refrenare is to check with a bridle keep yourself from doing sth. Thus it is exercising restraint such as: refrain from smoking, criticism or refrain from hostile action.

    Abstain is:
    1. refrain deliberately from sth you enjoy doing
    such drinking, eating or refrain from voting. It is from Latin abstinere from ab- from + tenere to hold
    2. decline to use your vote.
    Last edited by Dr. Jamshid Ibrahim; 30-Dec-2007 at 11:47.

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    #5

    Re: abstain, refrain

    Thank you!

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