ob·​tain əb-ˈtān How to pronounce obtain (audio)
obtained; obtaining; obtains

transitive verb

: to gain or attain usually by planned action or effort
The information was difficult to obtain.
We obtained a copy of the original letter.

intransitive verb

: to be generally recognized or established : prevail
Those ideas no longer obtain for our generation.
a greater degree of free expression than usually obtains in film productionRoger Manvell
archaic : succeed
obtainability noun
obtainable adjective
obtainer noun
obtainment noun

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 hold on to, possess." Obtinēre was itself formed by the combination of ob-, meaning "in the way," and the verb tenēre, meaning "to hold." In its earliest uses, obtain often implied a conquest or a successful victory in battle, but it is now used for any attainment through planned action or effort. The verb tenēre has incontestably prevailed in the English language, providing us with such common words as abstain, contain, detain, sustain, and, perhaps less obviously, the adjectives tenable and tenacious.

Example Sentences

The information may be difficult to obtain. We obtained a copy of the original letter. These ideas no longer obtain for our generation.
Recent Examples on the Web This requires them to be active from first light until dusk to obtain about two times their body weight of nectar daily. Ernie Cowan, San Diego Union-Tribune, 4 Feb. 2023 However, these certifications are difficult to obtain and/or expensive for manufacturers, so many companies choose not to get their products tested by one of these three organizations. Isabel Vasquez Rd Ldn, Health, 4 Feb. 2023 Apple in 2021 unveiled privacy changes that require apps to obtain user permission to track their activity across other apps and websites. Winston Cho, The Hollywood Reporter, 3 Feb. 2023 Nongovernment sportsbooks didn’t appear until 1993, when Sportsbet became the first private company to obtain a license. Alex Russell, The Conversation, 3 Feb. 2023 McCarthy accused Schiff of lying to the public during the Jan. 6 hearings to investigate the attack on the Capitol and said Swalwell would be unable to obtain a security clearance in the private sector. Rachel Looker, USA TODAY, 3 Feb. 2023 King’s death was investigated by the Hartford Police Major Crimes and Crime Scene Division who established enough evidence to obtain a warrant for Kittrell, police said. Taylor Hartz, Hartford Courant, 2 Feb. 2023 Attention focused recently on a man in the southern province of Sindh who lost his life in a scramble to obtain a bag of subsidized flour handed out by local authorities. Sophia Saifi, CNN, 2 Feb. 2023 The Chiefs and Eagles will pour everything into their quest to obtain Super Bowl glory. Catena Media, oregonlive, 2 Feb. 2023 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'obtain.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History


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, in the meaning defined at transitive sense

Time Traveler
The first known use of obtain was in the 15th century


Dictionary Entries Near obtain

Cite this Entry

“Obtain.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/obtain. Accessed 6 Feb. 2023.

Kids Definition


ob·​tain əb-ˈtān How to pronounce obtain (audio)
: to gain or acquire usually by planning or effort
: to be generally recognized or established : prevail sense 3b
good manners obtained
obtainable adjective

More from Merriam-Webster on obtain

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