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 The second email describes the pressure that allegedly the president of the National Border Patrol Council exerted on the agency to obtain a warrant and raid the Byrd Camp in 2017. Rafael Carranza, The Arizona Republic, "Border agents raid migrant aid camp in Arivaca for second time, group claims retaliation," 1 Aug. 2020 The hacker was able to obtain passwords and other sensitive information from employees using illegitimate emails, the company said. Sophie Lewis, CBS News, "Florida teen charged as "mastermind" behind massive Twitter hack," 31 July 2020 The agencies were able to obtain test data for 344 people who attended the camp, with 260 (76%) of those testing positive. Dennis Pillion | Dpillion@al.com, al, "231 children test positive for COVID after attending summer camp in Georgia, CDC says," 31 July 2020 Researchers were able to obtain DNA data from six of the nine skulls, enabling them to determine the skin, hair, and eye color of individuals. Kristin Romey, National Geographic, "Exclusive: Skull from perplexing ritual site reconstructed," 22 June 2020 Abdulbari announced other changes, such as no longer requiring women to obtain a permit from their male members for travel with their children, and renouncing Islam – known as apostasy – will no longer result in the death penalty. Fox News, "Sudan moves to repeal some Islamist laws after 30 years in place," 13 July 2020 Since January, the family and their attorney, Laura Landenwich, have sought to obtain the investigative file, video footage, evidence logs, witness statements and other open records that are part of LMPD's review of Gazaway's death. Billy Kobin, The Courier-Journal, "Family of man whom LMPD officers shot at a Kroger in 2019 still seek records on his death," 12 July 2020 Robinson was able to obtain a weapon and kill himself before police could arrest him on June 30 for the murder of Spc. Tom Vanden Brook, USA TODAY, "Army's prime suspect in Vanessa Guillen murder fled Ft. Hood before he could be locked up," 11 July 2020 In many areas, even then, they were required to obtain a special pass from a local official to be able to move around. The Economist, "The Philippines’ fierce lockdown drags on, despite uncertain benefits," 11 July 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

4 Aug 2020

Cite this Entry

“Obtain.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/obtain. Accessed 8 Aug. 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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