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 obtain (audio) , äb-​ \ noun
obtainable \ əb-​ˈtā-​nə-​bəl How to pronounce obtain (audio) , äb-​ \ adjective
obtainer noun
obtainment \ əb-​ˈtān-​mənt How to pronounce obtain (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 The Department of Justice defended its move to obtain the records in a statement to CNN. Frank Pallotta, CNN, "Trump's DOJ secretly obtained phone records of Washington Post reporters," 8 May 2021 Under its guidelines, the Justice Department is supposed to exhaust other investigative steps before seeking permission to obtain the phone records or emails of journalists from telecommunications companies. Adam Goldman, New York Times, "Justice Dept. Seized Washington Post’s Phone Records," 7 May 2021 Cooks must agree to health inspections, obtain food safety certification and pay an annual permit fee of $696. Janelle Bitker, San Francisco Chronicle, "A win for food pop-ups: Alameda County legalizes home cook businesses starting this summer," 5 May 2021 As an alternative trading system, StartEngine Secondary is registered with both the SEC and FINRA, and first required the parent StartEngine to obtain a broker-dealer license and transfer agent status. Krishan Arora, Forbes, "The Secondary Marketplace: A New Chapter For Equity Crowdfunding," 4 May 2021 The San Diego Workforce Partnership has released a video series that provides frameworks, prompts and guidance to help people obtain quality jobs and launch meaningful careers. Laura Groch, San Diego Union-Tribune, "North County Business Briefs, May 2," 3 May 2021 The state guidelines direct casinos to obtain permission from local health officials before holding any events involving large crowds and continue extra spacing between slot machine players. From Usa Today Network And Wire Reports, USA TODAY, "Virus-sniffing dog, Vegas boom, vaccine hecklers: News from around our 50 states," 3 May 2021 By one month after conception, embryonic tissue is easier to obtain and study and the organs have formed, leaving fewer questions to answer. USA Today, "Should scientists be allowed to grow human embryos in a dish beyond 14 days? Is it scientifically important or morally wrong?," 2 May 2021 The company spent serious time researching the most efficient ways to obtain methane and put it to the most effective use. Tom Bentley, Popular Mechanics, "How Tiny Ocean Microorganisms Could Kill Your Plastic Fork," 2 May 2021

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

13 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“Obtain.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/obtain. Accessed 13 May. 2021.

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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.

Comments on obtain

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