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From Anglo-Norman obtenir, optiner et al., and Middle French obtenir, from Latin obtinēre (to gain, achieve, succeed, possess), from ob- + tenēre (to hold).



obtain (third-person singular simple present obtains, present participle obtaining, simple past and past participle obtained)

  1. (transitive) To get hold of; to gain possession of, to procure; to acquire, in any way. [from 15th c.]
    • 1526, William Tyndale, trans. Bible, Luke XVIII:
      And a certayne ruler axed him: sayinge: Goode Master: what ought I to do, to obtaine eternall lyfe?
    • 1814 July, [Jane Austen], chapter III, in Mansfield Park: [], volume II, London: [] T[homas] Egerton, [], OCLC 39810224, page 64:
      [] Julia was quite as eager for novelty and pleasure as Maria, though she might not have struggled through so much to obtain them, and could better bear a subordinate situation.
    • 2013 June 21, Oliver Burkeman, “The tao of tech”, in The Guardian Weekly[1], volume 189, number 2, page 48:
      But the real way to build a successful online business is to be better than your rivals at undermining people's control of their own attention. Partly, this is a result of how online advertising has traditionally worked: advertisers pay for clicks, and a click is a click, however it's obtained.
  2. (intransitive, obsolete) To secure (that) a specific objective or state of affairs be reached. [15th–19th c.]
    • 1722, Daniel Defoe, Colonel Jack:
      he was condemned to die for the felony, and being so well known for an old offender, had certainly died, but the merchant, upon his earnest application, had obtained that he should be transported, on condition that he restored all the rest of his bills, which he had done accordingly.
  3. (intransitive, obsolete) To prevail, be victorious; to succeed. [15th–19th c.]
    • 1590, Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene, III.2:
      “O daughter deare!” (said she) “despeire no whit; / For never sore but might a salve obtain [...].”
    • 1701, Jonathan Swift, Contests and Dissentions in Athens and Rome:
      This, though it failed at present, yet afterward obtained, and was a mighty step to the ruin of the commonwealth.
  4. (transitive, obsolete) To hold; to keep, possess or occupy. [15th–18th c.]
  5. (intransitive) To exist or be the case; to hold true, be in force. [from 17th c.]
    • 1908, Jack London, The Iron Heel, ChapterXVII,
      Even though the Pervaise confession had never come to light, no reasonable doubt could obtain; for the act in question [] was on a par with countless other acts committed by the oligarchs, and, before them, by the capitalists.
    • 1992, Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash, Bantam Spectra, p. 460,
      But the hostage situation no longer obtains, and so Uncle Enzo feels it important to stop Rife now, []

Related terms[edit]