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I'd like to ask if there would any differences between if I changed the word restrain with the word refrain or vice versa in the following sentences?

The definition is for restrain in Oxford Learner's Dictionaries:

2 to stop yourself from feeling an emotion or doing something that you would like to do

restrain something John managed to restrain his anger.

I restrained the urge to punch him restrain yourself.

restrain yourself (from something/from doing something) She had to restrain herself from crying out in pain.

I was tempted to answer back, but I restrained myself.


He deliberately refrained from expressing his opinion on the matter.

I refrained from laughing.

Priscilla could barely refrain from clapping her hands together.

  • For one thing, "refrain from" doesn't take the reflexive pronoun like "restrain herself", and for another, it does completely change the nuance / connotations. – Dan Bron Mar 25 '16 at 14:58
  • @Thank you for your comment. I am intrigued to learn the changing in connotations and nuance – Mrt Mar 25 '16 at 15:05
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"Restrain" takes a direct object, and suggests forcibly containing that object, which otherwise would proceed freely, and perhaps forcefully. The metaphorical use you present is common, but be aware that it is metaphorical. To literally "restrain" something is to bind it with physical restraints -- to tie down an animal with ropes or to put shackles on a person, for example. If you say, metaphorically, that you are restraining your anger, it evokes a picture of chaining up a violent beast to prevent it from doing harm.

To "refrain from" is much milder and rather narrower in scope. It describes a rational choice against the specified course of personal action. As such, your first and third examples of this verb don't ring quite true to me:

  • refraining from something is always deliberate, and emphasizing that by redundantly saying so suggests that what you mean is actually different from refraining

  • If it is a struggle to avoid some course of action, then avoiding it is not well described as refraining from it. "Restraining" oneself describes that situation better.

Thus, although your example sentences could be rewritten to exchange usage of "restrain" and "refrain", the results would have rather different connotations, and some of them would sound odd. For example, compare "John managed to restrain his anger" with "John refrained from an angry response". They could hardly be more different. The first describes a passionate man near the limit of his self control, whereas the second describes a calm, dispassionate man. Neither makes an angry outburst, but the two pictures are entirely different.

  • Thank you.As you said by referring the last example sentence, I think, it would be more natural to say that " restrain" instead of " barely refrain from doing something"..So "to restrain" in figurative sense, it was like you almost did it or it was a matter of time but you didn't it and implies maybe you are more angry than usual.Am I right? – Mrt Mar 25 '16 at 16:01
  • No, it is natural to "barely" refrain from something only if you mean that in the timing sense: that at the last possible moment the subject changed their mind, deciding to refrain. As I said in the answer, if avoiding a course of action requires a difficult internal struggle, then "refrain" is not the right verb for the situation. – PellMel Mar 25 '16 at 16:09
  • Excellent answer, very well explained. Have my upvote, sir. – John Clifford Mar 25 '16 at 16:41

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