obtain

verb

ob·​tain əb-ˈtān How to pronounce obtain (audio)
äb-
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

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 productionRoger Manvell
2
archaic : succeed
obtainability noun
obtainable adjective
obtainer noun
obtainment 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 hold on to, possess." Obtinēre was itself formed by the combination of ob-, meaning "in the way," and the verb tenēre, meaning "to hold." In its earliest uses, obtain often implied a conquest or a successful victory in battle, but it is now used for any attainment through planned action or effort. The verb tenēre has incontestably prevailed in the English language, providing us with such common words as abstain, contain, detain, sustain, and, perhaps less obviously, the adjectives tenable and tenacious.

Example Sentences

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 Most of the 35 states with these laws allow for judicial bypass, which permits a minor to obtain approval from a court. Jenna Carlesso, Hartford Courant, 22 Jan. 2023 Spy ships seek to obtain intelligence about an adversary's sea and air traffic near a port, as well as radio and radar signals. Arkansas Online, 22 Jan. 2023 Spy ships seek to obtain intelligence about an adversary’s sea and air traffic near a port, as well as radio and radar signals. Andrew Jeong, Anchorage Daily News, 21 Jan. 2023 Spy ships seek to obtain intelligence about an adversary’s sea and air traffic near a port, as well as radio and radar signals. Andrew Jeong, Washington Post, 20 Jan. 2023 The investigation is still ongoing, but the culprit appeared to obtain the information through a single entry point serving customer data, and doesn’t appear to have breached the company’s systems or network. Catherine Larkin, Fortune, 19 Jan. 2023 Ultimately, investigators found probable cause to obtain an arrest warrant for Gwin, police said. Morgan Winsor, ABC News, 19 Jan. 2023 The investigation is still ongoing, but the culprit appeared to obtain the information through a single entry point serving customer data, and doesn’t appear to have breached the company’s systems or network. Catherine Larkin, BostonGlobe.com, 19 Jan. 2023 The investigation is still ongoing, but the culprit appeared to obtain the information through a single entry point serving customer data, and doesn’t appear to have breached the company’s systems or network. Dallas News, 19 Jan. 2023 See More

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.

Word History

Etymology

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

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Dictionary Entries Near obtain

Cite this Entry

“Obtain.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/obtain. Accessed 2 Feb. 2023.

Kids Definition

obtain

verb
ob·​tain əb-ˈtān How to pronounce obtain (audio)
äb-
1
: to gain or acquire usually by planning or effort
2
: to be generally recognized or established : prevail sense 3b
good manners obtained
obtainable adjective

More from Merriam-Webster on obtain

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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