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Should You Say Obtain or Attain? When To Use Each One?

Should You Say Obtain or Attain? When To Use Each One?

In the never-ending list of words in the English language that are similar in more ways than one, we encounter yet another pair: “obtain” and “attain”. These words have a similarity in their pronunciation in the second syllable and share close proximity in meaning too.

The word “obtain” should be used when one talks about having acquired something, physical items, or other acquisitions of that sort. Now, the word “attain”, while also connected to an acquisition, should be used when a set goal or specific criteria has been achieved. 

In this article, we will give you more details about each one, their proper use in a sentence with examples and other interesting facts. Read on!

obtain word in dictionary

Etymology And Definition Of The Word “Obtain”

The word “obtain” as we know it today in Modern English originated in the 15th Century and comes from the Anglo-French, which at the same time has its roots in the Latin word “obtinere” which means “to take hold of”.

On the Middle English side we can trace “obtain” back to the root word “obteinen”, which connects to the Anglo-French and Latin languages. The Anglo-French word “obtenir” is another variation of the origin of “obtain”, but the one thing all the different root languages share is the source word “tenere” which means “to hold” or “to posses”. That is where today’s meaning of “obtain” comes from.

“Obtain” is then defined as “getting, acquiring or securing something”. That is why when we think of it the thought of material possessions is the one most attuned with the meaning and proper use of this word.

Synonyms Of The Word “Obtain”

A word with meaning as multifaceted and that can be applied to so many different areas is bound to have many equivalents. Here is a list of synonyms that could be used in place of “obtain” in a sentence:

  1. Gain
  2. Earn
  3. Achieve
  4. Win
  5. Acquire
  6. Glean
  7. Procure
  8. Secure
  9. Come by
  10. Come to be in possession of

Etymology And Definition Of The Word “Attain”

The word “attain” originated from two parts, the union of two Latin words, the particle “ad” which means “to” and the word “tangere” which means “to touch”, the combination of these two formed the word “attingere”. The word “attain” also has origins in the French word “ateindre” which, just as the Latin root meant “to bring to justice” or “reach a state”.

From that definition of the root words that allowed the creation of “attain” is where we get the meaning it has today, “reach a state”. That is why the meaning or definition of “attain” is to “succeed in achieving something one has worked hard to get”.

Synonyms Of The Word “Attain”

Just as “obtain”, the word “attain” also has many similar words out there, that we can find and they could easily replace “attain” in a sentence without altering the meaning, here are some of them:

  1. Accomplish
  2. Reach
  3. Grasp
  4. Realize
  5. Fulfill
  6. Carry Through
  7. Acquire
  8. Bring About
  9. Earn
  10. Gain

Also, notice that some of the synonyms listed here are shared by the word “obtain” as well, but the first five on this list, which are the closest to the meaning of the word are completely different for both.

How To Use “Obtain” In A Sentence

When talking of the appropriate way to use “obtain” when you are writing, the first thing to consider is what type of word it is. “Obtain” is a verb and as such will be used to express action in a sentence.

In the infinitive form, it will be “to obtain”, in the gerund “obtaining” and the past and participle forms will be “obtained” because it is a regular verb.

It is also important to note that from the word “obtain” there is also an adjective variation, which is “obtainable”. This form of the word is used in very specific settings to convey the message that something or someone is “capable of being obtained or procured”.

Example Sentences Of The Word “Obtain” And Its Variants

  1. I would like to obtain more profit from the investments I make but I don’t know how to do that. That is why I am hiring a financial advisor to guide my investments from now on.
  2. He spoke to her yesterday and she said she would obtain the best deal possible and that she had a surprise for him when she returned home.
  3. All they thought about for the past year was how to obtain the right sequence of numbers to win the lottery. So far nothing has worked but it looks like they will keep trying.
  4. If you want to obtain the best tourist experience this island can offer you need to do it like a local. All the touristy things are overpriced and you don’t get to see much of the people and the people, if you ask me are the most real touristic experience.
  5. I think we should study more if we want success and to obtain what we want in the future.
  6. Our local high school swimming team obtained 1st place in the last national swimming competition.
  7. I thought buying a new car was obtainable but I forgot that while I could put in a downpayment and drive my new car, I would still need to pay for gas and insurance every month. That is without the monthly payments until the car is fully mine.
  8. She obtained the last special edition boots that were on sale from Dr. Martens.
  9. He has always obtained what he wants, only because we have spoiled him. I think is time he learned the value of things and how hard it is to get what you want when you need to work hard for every penny.
  10. You may obtain status when you are famous but being a good person is something you can not obtain with money or followers.

attain word in dictionary under magnifying glass

How To Use “Attain” In A Sentence

The proper way to use the word “attain” in a sentence will depend on the meaning we want to add to the sentence. We also need to remember that “attain”, just like “obtain” is a verb.

If we used the infinitive form it would be “to attain”, the gerund “attaining” and the past and participle “attained”. There is also an adjective form of the verb “attain”, that is “attainable” and this adjective also has the antonym “unattainable”.

So, depending on the verb tense, the intention of the sentence or if we are using the adjective to offer quality not using the verb to signify action we would need to consider all these options and factors at the time of using “attain” in a sentence.

Example Sentences Of The Word “Attain” And Its Variants

  1. The one thing she wanted to attain the most was clarity. That is why she stayed away for so long, and lost touch with everyone.
  2. If you asked me if I regret what I had to do in order to attain this inner peace I have now I would say I definitely don’t. If I have to, I would do it all over again.
  3. She attained the highest degree offered by the university. It was truly an honor and she deserved that and more.
  4. He is very hard working. He wakes up with the sun and goes to bed with the birds. My mother says he will attain all his heart desires sooner rather than later because he is putting in all the work.
  5. I never saw it as attainable but I had to try. I would have a weight hanging over me if I had not gone for it.
  6. She went to great lengths to attain her degree. Some days she would not eat or sleep and spend the day buried in books.
  7. Everything I have attained in life has been due to my own effort, careful planning, and hard work.
  8. He is not interested in attaining his goals the easy way.
  9. Literary and artistic work only attain their value when they are presented to the world.
  10. Losing those last 10 pounds seemed unattainable, but she pushed through and lost them in the last week of the program.

Difference Between “Obtain” And “Attain”

At this point in the article, I think we have established clear differences between “obtain” and “attain” but for the sake of clarity here it is for you again.

“Obtain” is connected to material possessions, the acquisition of goods, objects for the most of it. It can also be used to talk about having acquired something that you had not planned or worked for.

“Attain” on the other hand, is purposeful. This word is meant to be used when someone has put in the work, planned for a goal, and after doing what was needed they gain what they worked so hard for. Also, when we use the word “attain” it doesn’t need to be to refer to a possession, it could be the acquisition of something more intangible, more abstract, or more meaningful that goes beyond the extent of money.

guys high five as they made the summit

Final Words

As we wrap things up let us remember that when we use words correctly and to the full extent of their meaning, it gives our words a certain power, it gives our word purpose. This can only be “attained” through reading, practice, and staying up to date with grammar.

Now, the next time you have to choose between “obtain” or “attain” it is safe to say you will choose properly and you will succeed in communicating the message without room for doubts.