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 Earlier this month, a coalition of news organizations including The Arizona Republic, ABC15, Channel 12, CBS 5 and 3TV filed a special action in Maricopa County Superior Court to obtain that information, arguing the data are a public record. Arizona Republic, "As Glendale nursing home's deaths rises, it challenges others: Make your COVID-19 cases public," 19 May 2020 The search warrant, obtained by CBS News, named two men: Adrian Orlandes Walker and Jamarcus Cordell Glover, and said they had been observed transporting packages suspected to be drugs from the address. Christopher Brito, CBS News, "Family sues after 26-year-old EMT is shot and killed by police in her own home," 15 May 2020 On June 11, the second day, the draft will include rounds two through five, comprising 123 picks and beginning at 5 p.m., according to a memo obtained by ESPN. Ally Mauch, PEOPLE.com, "MLB 2020 Draft Will Be Held Remotely for First Time," 15 May 2020 Before buying, ask your purveyor how they were obtained. Catherine Lo, Good Housekeeping, "What Are Ramps, Anyway? Here's Everything You Need to Know," 7 May 2020 The documents were obtained by The Associated Press. Dallas News, "Justice Department drops criminal case against Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser," 7 May 2020 The documents were obtained by The Associated Press. Michael Balsamo And Eric Tucker, The Christian Science Monitor, "New twist in Trump-Russia investigation: DOJ drops Flynn case," 7 May 2020 Information was obtained about the theft and provided to detectives for their follow up investigation. Houston Chronicle, "Memorial Villages Police Department weekly report," 4 May 2020 An arrest warrant obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution accused Hightower of opening fire on a man who had pistol-whipped another suspect, Tyreek Farmer, earlier in the day. NBC News, "Tulane basketball star Teshaun Hightower arrested in Georgia murder," 28 Apr. 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

22 May 2020

Cite this Entry

“Obtain.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/obtain. Accessed 25 May. 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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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

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