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Constraint vs. Restraint: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Updated on October 6, 2023
Constraint refers to a limitation or restriction, while restraint refers to the act of holding back or controlling oneself or others.

Key Differences

Constraint often denotes a limitation or restriction that prevents someone from acting freely. It can be an external factor that hampers progress or restricts possibilities. For example, financial limitations can be a constraint on a project. Restraint, on the other hand, is typically about control, particularly self-control. It implies discipline and the act of holding oneself back from doing something.
In another perspective, constraint is something that is imposed on a situation, often from an external source. In engineering, for instance, there may be constraints in terms of materials or design capabilities. Restraint, in contrast, involves deliberately holding back, such as when one shows restraint by not responding to provocation.
From a grammatical standpoint, constraint is usually a noun that describes a state of being restricted or confined. For instance, in sentence construction, one might say, "The tight budget was a major constraint." Restraint, while also primarily used as a noun, connotes the act or means of holding back. An example would be, "He showed remarkable restraint in a heated argument."
Both words, constraint and restraint, can relate to physical or intangible situations. A constraint might refer to the limited space available in a room, while a restraint might refer to a seatbelt in a car. Nevertheless, while the words might sometimes seem synonymous, the nuance lies in constraint being about limitations and restraint being about control.

Comparison Chart


Limitation or restriction
Act of holding back or control

Usage in Sentences

Primarily used as a noun
Commonly used as a noun


Often external or imposed
More about self-control or deliberate holding back


Both tangible and intangible situations
Primarily about control, both physically and emotionally


Budget, time, capacity
Seatbelt, self-discipline

Constraint and Restraint Definitions


Something that confines or restricts freedom.
The small room was a major constraint for the event.


A device or means to limit movement.
The dog was kept in restraint to prevent it from running away.


A rule or condition imposing limitations.
The software has certain system constraints.


The act of holding back or controlling.
He showed great restraint during the debate.


A force or influence causing restricted movement or expression.
Cultural constraints affected her decision-making.


A rule or principle preventing excess.
The law acts as a restraint against monopolies.


A limitation or restriction.
The time constraint prevented them from finishing the project.


Control over emotional or impulsive behavior.
She displayed restraint despite the provocations.


A hindrance or obstacle to progress.
Lack of funding became a significant constraint.


The condition of being restrained or held back.
The child felt restraint when grounded for a week.


The threat or use of force to prevent, restrict, or dictate the action or thought of others.


The act of restraining
Police restraint of the suspect.


The state of being restricted or confined within prescribed bounds
Soon tired of the constraint of military life.


The condition of being restrained, especially the condition of losing one's freedom
A suspect held in restraint.


One that restricts, limits, or regulates; a check
Ignored all moral constraints in his pursuit of success.


An influence that inhibits or restrains
"If the enemy could be defined as radically evil, then the restraints of morality did not apply" (James Carroll).


What does constraint primarily indicate?

Constraint usually indicates a limitation or restriction.

Can constraint be self-imposed?

Yes, constraints can be self-imposed, but they often come from external factors.

How do constraints affect creativity?

While constraints can limit options, they can also drive innovation by forcing alternative solutions.

Can restraint be seen as a positive quality?

Yes, showing restraint, especially in terms of emotions, is often viewed as maturity or discipline.

Can time be a constraint?

Yes, limited time can act as a constraint in tasks or projects.

Is a chain used to hold back a dog considered a restraint?

Yes, it's a physical restraint to prevent the dog from moving freely.

What's the significance of restraint in law enforcement?

In law enforcement, restraint can refer to methods to control individuals or the principle of using minimal force.

Is restraint about external limitations?

Not primarily; restraint focuses more on self-control or deliberate holding back.

Can both words be used interchangeably?

While sometimes seeming similar, constraint and restraint have nuanced differences and aren't always interchangeable.

How does a seatbelt serve as a restraint?

A seatbelt restrains or holds back passengers to keep them safe during vehicle movement.

Can an idea or belief be a constraint?

Absolutely, cultural or personal beliefs can act as constraints in decision-making.

How do societal norms act as constraints?

Societal norms can set expectations or boundaries, limiting how individuals act or express themselves.

What is the core meaning of restraint?

Restraint revolves around the act of holding back or control.

How can restraint benefit interpersonal relationships?

Restraint can prevent impulsive reactions, leading to better communication and understanding.

Can restraint be physical?

Definitely, restraints like handcuffs or seatbelts are physical means to limit movement.

Can a constraint be overcome?

Yes, with innovation and adaptation, many constraints can be overcome or mitigated.

How is constraint used in project management?

In project management, constraints often refer to limitations like time, resources, and budget.

How does constraint function in engineering?

In engineering, constraints might relate to materials, design capabilities, or regulations.

Are financial limitations considered constraints?

Yes, financial limitations are common constraints in various scenarios.

How might one show restraint in a discussion?

One might show restraint by not raising their voice or refraining from responding to provocations.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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