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

Definition of obtain

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

1 : 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 production— Roger Manvell
2 archaic : succeed

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Other Words from obtain

obtainability \ əb-​ˌtā-​nə-​ˈbi-​lə-​tē How to pronounce obtainability (audio) , äb-​ \ noun
obtainable \ əb-​ˈtā-​nə-​bəl How to pronounce obtainable (audio) , äb-​ \ adjective
obtainer noun
obtainment \ əb-​ˈtān-​mənt How to pronounce obtainment (audio) , äb-​ \ 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 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).

Examples of obtain in a Sentence

The information may be difficult to obtain. We obtained a copy of the original letter. These ideas no longer obtain for our generation.
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Recent Examples on the Web Those wholesalers obtain the drugs from the same manufacturers that supply U.S. patients, Ojeda said. Erin Alberty, The Salt Lake Tribune, "Prescriptions from Mexico? Utah is paying public employees to make the trip," 2 Oct. 2020 The scholarship, named in honor of a multilingual advocate and former San Diego County Office of Education employee, is open to students countywide who obtain the Seal of Biliteracy from their school and district. Laura Groch, San Diego Union-Tribune, "North County School News, Oct. 1," 1 Oct. 2020 Officers tried to reason with Myers and obtain his cooperation to no avail. Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica, "Man refused to disband party that violated COVID order, gets year in jail," 29 Sep. 2020 The Free Press attempted to obtain the records through a Freedom of Information Act request filed in August 2019. Detroit Free Press Staff, Detroit Free Press, "Mayor Mike Duggan, city of Detroit win national 'award' for secrecy," 25 Sep. 2020 Saliva samples are easier to obtain than nasal or throat samples. Jeremy Olson, Star Tribune, "Minnesota COVID-19 surges seep back into long-term care facilities," 9 Oct. 2020 Amy Hess for permission to try to obtain DNA from Kenneth Walker, Taylor's boyfriend, who fired a gun at Taylor's apartment, precipitating a volley of police fire that killed Taylor. Tessa Duvall, The Courier-Journal, "Investigative report blames media 'misinformation' in Breonna Taylor case for civil unrest," 9 Oct. 2020 The noble gas is difficult to obtain in large quantities owing to the energy-intensive process needed to extract it from the air and because of competing demand from electronics, lighting and space industries. Elizabeth Gibney, Scientific American, "Last Chance for WIMPs: Physicists Launch All-Out Hunt for Dark-Matter Candidate," 8 Oct. 2020 For now, South Carolina absentee voters will be required to obtain a witness' signature on their ballots, except for those cast and received within two days of the Supreme Court's order. CBS News, "Supreme Court sides with Republicans and restores witness requirement for South Carolina absentee ballots," 6 Oct. 2020

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.

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First Known Use of obtain

15th century, in the meaning defined at transitive sense

History and Etymology for 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

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Time Traveler for obtain

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for obtain

Last Updated

15 Oct 2020

Cite this Entry

“Obtain.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/obtain. Accessed 21 Oct. 2020.

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More Definitions for obtain


How to pronounce obtain (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of obtain

somewhat formal : to gain or get (something) usually by effort
formal : to continue to be accepted or in use


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

Kids Definition of obtain

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

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Comments on obtain

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