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Obtain vs. Attain

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  Angbeen Chaudhary  —  Grammar Tips
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Attain and obtain are two different words that are often confused with each other by writers but both have their own distinct meanings.

Keeping track of these two words can save you and your writing from looking sloppy, but it can be difficult to remember their difference since they’re both verbs and they both have the same ending “tain.” In this post we’ll outline their differences and give you some tricks to tell attain vs. obtain a part.


The word obtain originated from late Middle English: from Old French obtenir, from Latin obtinere ‘obtain, gain’. The word attain originated from Middle English (in the senses ‘bring to justice’ and ‘reach a state’): from Old French ateindre, from Latin attingere, from ad- ‘at, to’ + tangere ‘to touch’.

Obtain as verb:

The word obtain is used as a verb in English language where it means to get, acquire, or secure (something).

Adequate insurance cover is difficult to obtain.

To be prevalent, customary, or established is also termed as obtain.

The price of silver fell to that obtaining elsewhere in the ancient world.

Attain as verb:

Obtain vs. Attain

The word attain also acts as a verb in English language where it means to succeed in achieving (something that one has worked for).

Clarify your objectives and ways of attaining them.


In fact, we have been able to attain a commendable level of economic success despite failing urban infrastructure and services. [Wall Street Journal]

The FBI director said that sometimes the best opportunity to obtain statements from a suspect is immediately following the arrest. [Christian Science Monitor]

When asked if it is now harder or easier to attain “the American Dream” than it was for their parents’ generation, 60 percent of Xavier’s 1,022 respondents said it’s getting harder. [The Atlantic]

Penn told the Tulsa World the charity allows ranchers to obtain hay and grain at participating feed stores. [The Republic]

Attain or obtain:

To attain something is to reach or achieve a goal. Attain involves work and effort. To obtain something is to take ownership of it and is unrelated to any level of difficulty. A good way to keep these two words a part from each other is to remember that “to attain something” is to achieve or accomplish something. Achieve and Accomplish both start with A’s and both involve working to see a goal fulfilled.

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