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What’s The Difference Between “Attain” and “Obtain”?

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Many people confuse “attain” and “obtain” because they both end in “—tain,” and have similar meanings. However, these two words are not synonyms. We’ll go over their distinctions.

White text over green background reads Attain vs. Obtain (attain or obtain)
“Attain” and “obtain” often get used incorrectly.
  • Attain means to “reach, achieve, or accomplish” through the means of hard work.
    • After months of studying, I finally attained a passing grade on my final exam.
  • Obtain means to “get or acquire something.”
    • Joe obtained a rare baseball card.

“Attain” vs. “Obtain”

Do you ever ask yourself whether attain or obtain would fit your writing best? These words have similar definitions, which is why many people use them interchangeably. But there’s a distinction between attain and obtain. We’ll elaborate below.


What Does “Attain” Mean?

Attain is a verb that means “to succeed in something or achieve a goal.” Attain implies that there was a lot of hard work or effort put into accomplishing something.

Gabriel attained a coveted position at the academy after months of campaigning.

In the sentence above, Gabriel put effort into campaigning to reach a certain position at the academy.

Here are a few more examples of attain in a sentence:

He attained a stress-free life through months of consistent meditation.
Erica said she had to leave home to attain her dream of becoming a doctor.
Dylan was frustrated because although he worked hard, he could never attain the recognition he deserved.
Years of practice helped her attain proficient skills on the cello.

What Does “Obtain” Mean?

Obtain, on the other hand, is a verb that commonly means “to acquire possession of something.” While hard work or effort could play a role in how you acquired the object, that isn’t implicit.

Consider the following example:

Carlos obtained a rare Star Wars action figure.

In the sentence above, Carlos acquires an object. However, by reading the sentence, one doesn’t know if he simply stumbled upon the rare Star Wars action figure in a local shop, or if he searched for it for years and finally found it.

Here are a few more examples of obtain in a sentence:

Olivia obtained tickets to the concert.
Jackson obtained a hair-dressing license and shortly after opened a salon.
Samara wanted to obtain a signed poster of Harry Styles.

Do You “Obtain” or “Attain” a Degree?

To remember how to use these words correctly, remember that:

Attain means you achieved or accomplished something (like a goal),
and obtain means you acquired an object.

So, when you attain a degree, you’re referring to the hours of studying you put into getting an education. But when you obtain a degree, you’re referring to actually acquiring the degree or diploma.

If you want to attain your dream of becoming a writer, LanguageTool can help. This intelligent text editor not only corrects spelling and grammar errors, but also enhances your writing by providing synonyms and suggesting stylistic improvements.

Yellow background with someones arm holding a degree (attain a degree or obtain a degree?)
Whether you “attain a degree” or “obtain a degree” depends on what you’re referring to—the process of getting the degree or receiving the degree itself.

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