Weekly Grammar Tip: constrain/restrain

What’s the difference between ‘constrain’ and ‘restrain’?

Constrain and restrain are two words that are very similar and often misused because their definitions share similarities that seem minor, yet are very different in practice.

CONSTRAIN refers to something that prevents you from doing something.

Helga was constrained by duty to her family.

The constraints of the law kept Fergal from killing every stupid person in the room, even though he really, really, really wanted to.

RESTRAIN refers to something that stops you from doing something.

I had to be restrained when I walked into the Hershey’s store. So. Much. Chocolate.

Fergal gave in to temptation and had to be restrained before his frustration led to him killing the stupid people beyond the room as well.

Think of constrain as being like a fence that keeps you in and inhibits you, but you can jump over it if you really want to (and then deal with the consequences). Restrain is like a rope that ties you up and stops you from jumping anything, unless you’re a character inFifty Shades of Grey.

I felt the CONSTRAINS of a modest society breaking against my bare flesh as I walked naked through the supermarket before the security guard decided to RESTRAIN me and call the police.

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