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

But obtaining funding and ship time to conduct studies of one of Earth’s fastest-changing regions could still be a challenge, researchers say. Kelly Mayes, Science | AAAS, "Vanishing Arctic ice will open the way for more science voyages, analysis suggests," 12 Aug. 2019 Other proposals would authorize parents of youths under 18 to consent to police searches of their children or the children’s belongings for guns, and would offer cash rewards for information about someone who possesses illegally obtained weapons. Bob Egelko, SFChronicle.com, "San Jose Mayor Liccardo responds to gun violence — wants owners to have insurance," 12 Aug. 2019 And statistics obtained for the study from the U.S. Department of Education represent the most recent data available, as self-reported by the schools. Peter Dawson, Houston Chronicle, "These Houston high schools are the best for athletes in 2020, study shows," 12 Aug. 2019 More than 60 clinics across the state help patients obtain the life-saving drugs and regular medical care. Mike Cason | Mcason@al.com, al, "Providers want to find and stamp out HIV in rural Alabama," 12 Aug. 2019 But in practice, obtaining a firearm is very difficult under the country’s strict gun laws. San Diego Union-Tribune, "Guns from the United States kill tens of thousands of Mexicans a year," 11 Aug. 2019 Philon, 25, was arrested in Phoenix after allegedly threatening to shoot a woman outside of a strip club on May 17, reports TMZ, who obtained a copy of the police report. Jenna West, SI.com, "Cardinals Cut Darius Philon Following Arrest for Aggravated Assault," 10 Aug. 2019 The company also coordinated her medical care and made travel arrangements, including obtaining passports, airline tickets, hotel and meals for the couple. Phil Galewitz, New York Times, "A Mexican Hospital, an American Surgeon, and a $5,000 Check (Yes, a Check)," 9 Aug. 2019 Law enforcement seized the website and used technology to log users’ download activity and obtain IP addresses of those getting on the site. oregonlive.com, "Gaston man who downloaded child pornography sentenced to 8 years in federal prison," 9 Aug. 2019

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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Statistics for obtain

Last Updated

15 Aug 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for obtain

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

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More Definitions for obtain



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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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).


to move or obtain by small maneuvers

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