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Quick answer
"Detener" is a transitive verb which is often translated as "to stop", and "retener" is a transitive verb which is often translated as "to keep". Learn more about the difference between "detener" and "retener" below.
detener(
deh
-
teh
-
nehr
)
A transitive verb is a verb that requires a direct object (e.g. I bought a book.).
1. (to halt)
a. to stop
El accidente detuvo la circulación de tráfico por completo.The accident stopped the flow of traffic completely.
2. (to detain)
a. to arrest
La policía detuvo al criminal tan pronto como lo encontraron.The police arrested the criminal as soon as they found him.
3. (to hold up)
a. to delay
Un ladrón detuvo a la policía mientras el otro se escapó con el dinero.One robber delayed the police while the other got away with the money.
detenerse
A reflexive verb is a verb that indicates that the subject performs an action on itself (e.g. Miguel se lava.).
4. (to cease movement)
a. to stop
Ellos se detuvieron en seco cuando escucharon la sirena.They stopped in their tracks when they heard the siren.
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retener(
rreh
-
teh
-
nehr
)
A transitive verb is a verb that requires a direct object (e.g. I bought a book.).
1. (to prevent from leaving)
a. to keep
Mi trabajo es lo único que me retiene aquí.My work is the only thing that keeps me here.
b. to hold
No podemos retenerlo en contra de su voluntad.We cannot hold him against his will.
c. to keep back
El temporal nos retuvo varios días en la isla.The storm kept us back on the island for several days.
d. to hold up
En el último minuto surgió un problema que me retuvo en la oficina.At the last minute, a problem came up that held me up at the office.
2. (to prevent from advancing)
a. to retain (water or a crowd)
El embalse se forma porque la presa retiene el agua del río.The reservoir is created by the dam retaining the river's waters.
b. to hold back (water or a crowd)
La verja no pudo retener la gran marea humana.The gate could not hold back the great mass of people.
3. (to arrest)
a. to hold
El sospechoso fue retenido en comisaría e interrogado durante dos horas.The suspect was held at the police station and interrogated for two hours.
b. to detain
La retuvieron en prisión varios meses sin juicio.She was detained without trial for several months.
4. (to prevent from circulating)
a. to withhold (information or data)
Durante años, el laboratorio farmacéutico retuvo información sobre la toxicidad del fármaco.The pharmaceutical company withheld information on the drug's toxicity for years.
b. to keep back (information or data)
Se retuvieron datos a fin de proteger la privacidad de los usuarios.Some data were kept back in order to protect users' privacy.
5. (to continue to have)
a. to retain
En las últimas elecciones, ningún partido logró retener todos sus escaños.In the last election, no party managed to retain all its seats.
b. to keep
Retener la atención de los alumnos es el principal desafío del profesor.Keeping his or her pupils' attention is a teacher's main challenge.
c. to hold onto
El actor, divorciado tres veces, afirmó que retener a una mujer no es asunto fácil.The actor, three times divorced, asserted that holding onto a woman is not that easy.
d. to hold down (a job)
No consigue retener ningún trabajo mucho tiempo.She can't hold down any job for long.
6. (physics)
a. to retain (heat or a charge)
La lana retiene el calor mejor que los tejidos sintéticos.Wool retains heat better than synthetic fabrics.
7. (medicine)
a. to retain (liquids or urine)
Quizá te sientes hinchada porque retienes líquidos.Maybe you feel swollen because you're retaining liquids.
b. to hold (urine)
El músculo de la vejiga no se contrae y el paciente no puede retener la orina.The muscles in his bladder won't contract and the patient cannot hold in his urine.
c. to hold down (when vomiting or having diarrhea)
Sigue vomitando y no consigue retener ningún líquido.She's still vomiting, and she can't hold down any liquid.
8. (to not give back)
a. to retain (ID or bank card)
La policía le retuvo el pasaporte y se quedó indocumentado.The police retained his passport and he was left with no identity papers.
9. (finance)
a. to withhold (tax money)
La empresa me retiene los impuestos directamente del sueldo bruto.My company withholds my taxes directly from my gross salary.
b. to deduct (tax money)
Nos retienen un 20% de los ingresos.We get 20% deducted from our income.
10. (to remember)
a. to retain
Nunca deja de asombrarme la cantidad de información que eres capaz de retener.It never ceases to amaze me how much information you are able to retain.
b. to keep in one's head
El profesor no esperará que retengamos todos esos nombres y fechas.The teacher cannot expect us to keep all those names and dates in our heads.
retenerse
A pronominal verb always uses a reflexive pronoun. (e.g. Te ves cansado.).
11. (to contain oneself)
a. to restrain yourself
No me pude retener y le dije cuatro verdades.I couldn't restrain myself and gave him a piece of my mind.
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