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verb ob·tain \əb-ˈtān, äb-\

Simple Definition of obtain

  • : to gain or get (something) usually by effort

  • : to continue to be accepted or in use

Source: Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary

Full Definition of obtain

  1. transitive verb
  2. :  to gain or attain usually by planned action or effort

  3. intransitive verb
  4. 1 archaic :  succeed

  5. 2 :  to be generally recognized or established :  prevail

obtainability play \-ˌtā-nə-ˈbi-lə-tē\ noun
obtainable play \-ˈtā-nə-bəl\ adjective
obtainer noun
obtainment play \-ˈtān-mənt\ noun

Examples of obtain in a sentence

  1. The information may be difficult to obtain.

  2. We obtained a copy of the original letter.

  3. These ideas no longer obtain for our generation.

Did You Know?

Obtain, which was adopted into English in the 15th century, comes to us via Anglo-French from the Latin obtinēre, meaning "to take hold of." "Obtinēre" was itself formed by combination of ob-, meaning "in the way," and the verb tenēre, meaning "to hold." If you have the kind of memory that holds on to etymological sources, you will likely remember that we featured another descendent of "tenere" just days ago. For those whose memories have a less tenacious grip, we'll remind you now that the featured word was "untenable" (and that "tenacious" was also mentioned as a relative).

Origin of obtain

Middle English obteinen, from Anglo-French & Latin; Anglo-French obtenir, from Latin obtinēre to hold on to, possess, obtain, from ob- in the way + tenēre to hold — more at thin

First Known Use: 15th century

OBTAIN Defined for Kids


verb ob·tain \əb-ˈtān\

Definition of obtain for Students


  1. :  to gain or get hold of with effort <She was able to obtain a ticket to the show.> <We obtained permission to enter.>

Word Root of obtain

The Latin words tenēre, meaning “to hold,” gives us the roots ten and tain. Words from the Latin tenēre have something to do with holding. Something tenacious holds on and is not easily gotten rid of. To contain is to hold things together inside. To obtain is to get hold of. To retain is to continue to hold.

Seen and Heard

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to expose to danger or risk

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