ob·tain | \ əb-ˈtān , 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 archaic : succeed

2 : 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

Keep scrolling for more

Other words from obtain

obtainability \əb-ˌtā-nə-ˈbi-lə-tē, äb- \ noun
obtainable \əb-ˈtā-nə-bəl, äb- \ adjective
obtainer noun
obtainment \əb-ˈtān-mənt, 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.
See More

Recent Examples on the Web

The contents of the recordings or how they were obtained are not described in the court filing. J. Scott Trubey, ajc, "Atlanta bribery evidence against Mitzi Bickers includes recordings," 10 July 2018 No one was injured and an undetermined amount of money was obtained. Karen Pilarski, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Man wearing a fake beard and fishing hat robs Brookfield bank," 9 July 2018 Jordan, who was the assistant wrestling coach under Hellickson, is not mentioned by name nor referred to in the footage, which was obtained by NBC News from former Ohio State wrestler Mike DiSabato, the initial whistleblower. NBC News, "Ohio State wrestlers describe abuse by Dr. Strauss in wrenching video," 9 July 2018 The memo, which was obtained by The Times, did not name the administrators. Rosanna Xia, latimes.com, "L.A. Trade-Tech administrators received $157,000 for work they failed to justify, investigation finds," 8 July 2018 Democrats on the House committee protested, charging that GOP leaders rushed to end the investigation before key witnesses were interviewed and crucial documents were obtained. Erin Kelly, USA TODAY, "Senate panel says Russia intervened in 2016 election to help Donald Trump, undercut Hillary Clinton," 3 July 2018 The audio recordings were obtained from Broadcastify. Ruth Brown, idahostatesman, "The man accused of killing toddler, stabbing 8 refugees, was arrested just 2 months ago," 2 July 2018 According to the suit, which was obtained by PEOPLE, the woman sued Jeremy after local authorities declined to file criminal charges against the actor, who was born Ronald Hyatt. Chris Harris, PEOPLE.com, "Adult Film Star Ron Jeremy Sued by Washington Woman Who Claims He Sexually Assaulted Her," 2 July 2018 The internal report was obtained by The Courant through a Freedom of Information Act request. Steven Goode, Courant Community, "Windsor Police: Officers Falsified Records," 30 June 2018

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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about obtain

Listen to Our Podcast about obtain

Dictionary Entries near obtain








Statistics for obtain

Last Updated

12 Sep 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for obtain

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

See more words from the same century

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for obtain



English Language Learners Definition of obtain

: to gain or get (something) usually by effort

: to continue to be accepted or in use


ob·tain | \ əb-ˈtān \
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.

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on obtain

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for obtain

Spanish Central: Translation of obtain

Nglish: Translation of obtain for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of obtain for Arabic Speakers

Comments on obtain

What made you want to look up obtain? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


by word of mouth

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Name that Food Quiz

Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?


Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.


Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!