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?

If you have difficulty choosing whether to use obtain or attain in a sentence, don’t worry, we get it. Both can mean “to get” or “to acquire,” and in some situations can be used synonymously, but one or the other might be more appropriate depending on what is being acquired and how. One clue is their respective etymologies: obtain comes to us via Anglo-French from the Latin verb obtinēre, meaning “to hold on to, possess,” while attain’s Anglo-French ancestor is ateindre, meaning “to reach” or “to accomplish.” Accordingly, obtain is usually the word used when you are acquiring, by planned effort, a tangible object—something you can hold. “We are having trouble obtaining the supplies we need” sounds natural, for example, while “Have you attained the sugar and flour I asked for?” does not. Reflecting its roots (and also implying effort), attain is often used in the same way as achieve, as in “After decades of hard work she attained her goal of earning a PhD.” Of course, one can also obtain intangible things, such as power or information, so consider this advice something to hold onto and consider when the moment arises—you needn’t cling to it.

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.
Recent Examples on the Web California’s nursing shortage The goal of SB 895 is to make obtaining a nursing degree more equitable and accessible. Emma Hall, Sacramento Bee, 22 May 2024 Actress Riley Keough, who inherited the Memphis property after the death last year of her mother, Lisa Marie Presley, and a settlement with grandmother Priscilla Presley, obtained a temporary restraining order against a sale of Graceland by Naussany Investments & Private Lending LLC. Angie Orellana Hernandez, Los Angeles Times, 21 May 2024 See all Example Sentences for obtain 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'obtain.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

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 30 May. 2024.

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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