Attain vs. Obtain – How to Use Each Correctly
What’s the Difference Between Attain and Obtain?
Attain and obtain have the same ending, and they both mean to get something. However, other the two words’ more specific definitions are very different and are used to signal nuances in meaning.
Attain is a verb that means to get an achievement.
- After a lot of hard work, she attained her dream of being able to speak 7 languages.
Obtain is also a verb. It means to get possession of something.
- The men obtained the tools they needed to cut down the tree.
Now, let’s go over a few ways you can use these words in your sentences.
Using Attain in a Sentence
When to use attain: Attain is a verb that means reaching a goal.
- After working hard for many years, she finally attained success as an author.
- Jackie Chan attained great skills as a martial arts fighter.
There is one major difference between the connotations of attain and obtain. Attain implies achieving an objective through hard work and effort whereas obtain merely means to acquire. Although one can obtain something with effort, it isn’t implied by the word obtain.
People often use attain to talk about academic or professional goals.
Using Obtain in a Sentence
When to use obtain: Obtain is a verb that means to get something or to gain possession of something.
- He obtained some rare diamonds through his business connections.
- I obtained some information that shows you in a negative light.
Occasionally attain and obtain are used for the same word. They still have slightly different meanings. For example, if you attain your degree or diploma, it means you worked hard to get it. If you obtain your diploma, it means you received it upon graduation.
Remembering Attain vs. Obtain
It is possible to use the spelling of attain and obtain to distinguish the two words from one another.
Attain starts with a just like the word achievement or accomplishment. This is useful because people use attain with the connotation of having achieved or accomplished something.
Obtain starts with the letters ob, which is useful because people usually obtain an object. Object also begins with the letters ob.
- “The main issue facing the organizers will be one of trying to attain swift containment, which will be pretty challenging due to the nature of the virus,” Shirley Kirnon, a lecturer in Infection Control at Birmingham City University, said. –New York Daily News
- In between World Cups, the biggest and most vital task is qualifying for them, a target far easier to attain in CONCACAF than, say, Europe or South America. –USA Today
- Not everyone who wants to attend this first L.A. run will be fortunate enough to obtain a ticket, but the musical has already extended its reach through streaming music services, the documentary “Hamilton’s America” that was shown on PBS, “Hamilton: The Revolution” (the impressive book Miranda co-wrote with Jeremy McCarter annotating the libretto and documenting the production’s creation) and of course all those thrilling award-show numbers. –LA Times
- “The New York State Department of Health is committed to growing the state’s Medical Marijuana Program responsibly,” said State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker. “The addition of these registered organizations will make it easier for patients across the state to obtain medical marijuana.” –New York Post
Quiz: Obtain vs. Attain
Instructions: Fill in the blank with the correct word, either obtain or attain in the correct form and conjugation.
- The woman worked a full time job while also being in school full time. However, all the hard work was worth it to _______________ her degree.
- Although he wasn’t a mechanic himself, he had __________________ quite a bit of knowledge about cars and how they worked simply from watching his father work in the auto shop.
- Before the archaeologists could start unearthing the fossil they had to ______________ some special tools.
- The soldier finally _______________ a higher rank after working as hard as she could.
- Schools in our district must help students _______________ higher standards so that they are prepared for university.
See answers below.
Should I use attain or obtain? These words both involve getting something, but there is an important distinction between them.
- Attain is a verb that means getting something through great effort.
- Obtain is a verb that means receiving something, with or without effort, or acquiring something.
Both words are common when discussing educational or professional goals, so make sure to understand what you are implying when you choose one word over another.
Answers from Quiz
- attain (obtain would also make sense, but attain fits best because the emphasis is on the effort it took)
- obtained (attained could also make sense, but here there is no emphasis on effort)