We were thinking originally in terms of voting, but of course "abstain" has a more general meaning, of which the antonym is probably "indulge".

But is there an opposite that would be more appropriate when the usage of abstain is related to abstaining from voting in an election?

  • Two things come to mind, and they're both quite different. One is describing a single act of voting: "cast their vote," etc., and the other is adjectives for someone who is a chronic voter: "vocal about their opinion," "never one to hold their tongue," "assertive," "partisan," "opinionated," "obstinate," "dogmatic," etc. – Michael Jul 7 '11 at 16:45
  • How come you can "abstain" but you cannot "stain" or "tain" at least in the meaning of "not refrain". I would be gruntled if someone could explain. – James Anderson Jul 8 '11 at 2:23
  • I was going to provide the answer "Do" but that doesn't seem to really meet the context in regards to voting, just general abstain. – Chris Marisic Jul 8 '11 at 13:37

10 Answers 10


In an election, the opposite of abstaining is voting, because "abstaining" in that context means "to refrain from casting one's vote". The opposite of "not voting" is "voting".

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    I'm finding it hard to see how OP could have expected any other antonym, after explicitly specifying that he was only interested in the sense of abstaining from voting. – FumbleFingers Jul 7 '11 at 14:48
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    @FumbleFingers: the idea of casting a ballot that indicates an abstention (e.g. voting "present" in the US Congress) may muddy the waters a bit. – Ken Bloom Jul 7 '11 at 17:51
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    @Ken Bloom: We've always had that in the UK. It's called "spoilt ballot papers", and the number of such is normally reported if it's enough to be significant. – FumbleFingers Jul 7 '11 at 22:15

I would say the opposite is partake.

We all partook in the voting.

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  • That gives me the impression it was a voluntary action - which might well have been the case -- but in Australia voting is compulsory and never voluntary. Hmmm, that probably says more about me than I'd like. – pavium Jul 7 '11 at 13:19
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    @pavium: So I guess your antonym would have to be comply? – FumbleFingers Jul 7 '11 at 14:50
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    No, I'll have to go with 'voting'. At every election, some wit reminds us to "vote early, and vote often" – pavium Jul 7 '11 at 22:23

How about "participate"? Or perhaps "turned out" (to vote). Depends on the sentence, really.

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I voted up drm65's answer of contextual solution, to simply say vote.

However if you are looking for a term you might consider

  • participate in voting | abstain from voting
  • vote | abstain from voting
  • exercise (or consume) your voting rights | abstain from voting
  • cast a vote | abstain from voting
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The opposite of abstain/refrain is to partake/participate/have

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Maybe to "assert your vote" is what you're looking for?

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  • Though this isn't a technical term. – Daniel Jul 7 '11 at 12:26
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    does it need to be? The justification for my answer is that "abstain" carries the impression that you considered the candidates and, based on your judgment, decided to not vote. "Assert" similarly implies that you have considered the candidates and decidedly selected one to vote for. – tenfour Jul 7 '11 at 12:29

For pleasures, "partake."

For voting "participate."

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Indulge is the opposite of abstain.

You are not using abstain in the best context by applying it to voting. Abstain and indulge have certain moral connotations. Thus, a better bet would have been to use refrain and partake.

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    -1: The OP said that he already considered the general meaning of "abstain"; his entire question centers around its particular meaning in the context of voting. By saying "You are not using abstain in the best context by applying it to voting", you are ignoring what the OP asked. – Daniel Jul 8 '11 at 17:14

In terms of voting? There are several:


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Simple: Sustain. (if you want to stick with the same suffix)

–verb (used with object) 1. to support, hold, or bear up from below; bear the weight of, as a structure. 2. to bear (a burden, charge, etc.). 3. to undergo, experience, or suffer (injury, loss, etc.); endure without giving way or yielding.

(shamelessly stolen from http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/sustain)

Both words come from the same root... meaning "to hold"... implying to support a vote (either for or against) or in the opposite... like abstain meaning to withhold support of a vote.

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