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.]
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 ©2022 by HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
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