attain vs obtain

What is the difference?

definition: succeed in achieving (something that one has worked for)
  1. clarify your objectives and ways of attaining them
  2. he attained the rank of Brigadier
achieve, accomplish, reach, arrive at, come by, obtain, gain, procure, secure, get, grasp, hook, net, win, earn, acquire, establish, make
definition: get, acquire, or secure (something)
  1. adequate insurance cover is difficult to obtain
get, acquire, come by, secure, procure, come into possession of, pick up, be given

attain vs obtain

Stuck trying to find the difference between the words attain and obtain? These commonly confused words can be tricky, especially for English language learners or native speakers. Check our page for tips, takeaways, examples, and definitions.

1. attain


Attain is a verb meaning to achieve, accomplish, or reach. It refers in the English language to something you succeed in achieving. Attain is also used as an intransitive verb meaning to come or arrive by effort, growth, or motion. Some synonyms for attained are achieved, racked up, or gained.


Origin of attain

The first known use of attain as a transitive verb meaning to achieve comes from the 14th century. The word attain in etymology stems from a few different sources. In Middle English, the word "atteyen" stems from the Anglo-French "ateign." Meaning to reach, accomplish, or bring to justice, and from Latin," 'tangere," meaning to touch.

Examples for attain

She attained high productivity to get her certification.

They attained excellent results to achieve good grades.

The Tesla Model S Plaid can attain a top speed of 216 mph.

Danny refused to let his injuries prevent him from attaining his goal of playing in the MLS cup.

After years of working toward my Ph.D., I finally attained my doctorate.

The United States of America attained independence from Britain on the 4th of July, 1776.

2. obtain


Obtain can also be used as a transitive verb, meaning to gain or achieve something by planned action or effort. As an intransitive verb, it means to be established or recognized. Synonyms for obtained are acquired, secured, won, come by, or to get.


Origin of obtain

The first known use of obtain as a transitive verb was in the 15th century. Although both commonly confusing words use the suffix "-tain." Obtain derives from the Latin word "obtenēre," meaning to hold or possess.

Examples for obtain

We need to obtain the deeds for the house.

I can only get work done once I obtain a cup of coffee.

I need to obtain the keys to the ice cream shop.

The city is looking to obtain plans to create a new pedestrianized walkway.

Wait a moment, as the information you want may take time to obtain.

Who do I need to speak to obtain the latest reports?

Takeaways - Tips

A bit of knowledge to help you figure out the difference between these two commonly confused words in the English language.


Attain can be remembered from synonyms like achieve, accomplish, or reach. It means to achieve something through considerable effort.


Obtain can be remembered from synonyms like get, acquire, or come by. It means to get or secure something. For example, after attaining good grades, Daniel obtained a certificate.

Bottom Line

You can use both verbs, transitive or intransitive. Attain can be used to define the acquisition of a physical item to express the effort put in to obtain the result. For example, after attaining good grades, Daniel obtained a certificate. This shows that Daniel had to work hard to achieve good grades to get a certification; it wasn't just given to him.


When to use attain?

When to use obtain?

How to remember attain vs. obtain?

Commonly Confusing Words

Spell checkers don't always have you covered. Sometimes your word might be spelled correctly, but it could be the wrong word. In English, there are lots of confusing terms that look alike but are spelled differently, and many terms that mean the same thing but are easily misused.

Here are the most commonly confusing word pairings, with definitions and examples of their usage.

Check it out!