Attain vs. Obtain

Attain means to achieve something difficult or reach a particular level while obtain means to get something by buying it or working for it. Both verbs are used in formal writing or speaking. They’re synonymous in one sense, which is getting something, but they have nuances of meaning and usage.

When to Use Attain

Attain as a Verb

Attain is a regular verb that’s used to express achieving something difficult after trying for a long time. It requires effort. In this sense, attain is synonymous with accomplish.

Honor students attain their goals because they work hard for them.

I attained an excellent grade due to my output.

Lyle hasn’t attained his aim, which is full enlightenment.

Another meaning of attain is reaching some abstract or real destination. It also means reaching a certain level or state.

They can’t attain financial freedom if they don’t learn how to invest their money wisely.

Mel isn’t allowed to date until she attains the legal age.

The climbers didn’t attain the top of the hill on time.

There’s another way of using attain although it’s rarely done. Attainis used as an intransitive verb followed by “to.” It means to arrive or come by movement or growth.

We’ll attain to a blissful state.

Can they truly attain to perfection?

These plants will possibly attain to six feet.

Related Words

Attainable is an adjective that means possible to achieve.

Everything is attainable when we believe we can do it.

They’re all attainable targets for every participant.

We should admit now that our objectives aren’t attainable before it’s too late.

Attainment is a countable or uncountable noun. It means something achieved or stands for the act of achieving something.

Larry is proud of his educational attainment.

Attainment rates help show strengths and weaknesses.

The attainment of the country’s independence was never easy.

When to Use Obtain

Obtain as a Verb

Obtain is a regular verb used to mean acquiring or taking ownership of something with or without any difficulty. In everyday English, people say “get” rather than obtain.

Minors who don’t obtain permission from their parents aren’t allowed to go to the event.

How will we obtain information if we don’t go to the source?

I forgot that my lawyers can obtain the records next week.

The other meaning of obtain is to exist or prevail. This usage commonly relates to situations or systems. It’s not in progressive form.

Biblical principles still obtain now and will continue to do so.

Many native practices no longer obtain.

Economic crises obtain in different parts of the world.

Related Word

Obtainable is an adjective that means something is available or accessible.

The forms are obtainable online.

Precious gems aren’t easily obtainable.

Schools provide obtainable solutions for students in need.

Attain vs. Obtain: What’s the Difference?

Attain and obtain basically mean getting something, but they have subtle differences in meaning as well as usage. Attain is a formal way of saying achieving or reaching something, and it pertains to accomplishment. On the other hand, obtain is a formal way of saying “get,” and it relates to possessing something that may or may not need effort.


Cambridge Dictionary. (n.d.). Attain. In Retrieved from

Cambridge Dictionary. (n.d.). Obtain. In Retrieved from

Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English Online. (n.d.). Attain. In Retrieved from

Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English Online. (n.d.). Obtain. In Retrieved from

Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Attain. In Merriam-Webster.comdictionary. Retrieved from 

Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Obtain. In Merriam-Webster.comdictionary. Retrieved from