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Attain vs. Obtain: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Updated on October 24, 2023
Attain is about achieving a goal or level; obtain is about acquiring or getting something.

Key Differences

Attain often suggests a journey or effort toward achieving a particular goal, while obtain implies getting possession of something, usually through effort or request.
One might attain enlightenment through meditation, whereas one would obtain a book from a library.
Attain can be used in contexts where there's a sense of accomplishment or reaching a certain status, while obtain is more straightforward, often focusing on the act of getting or procuring.
Degrees, milestones, or personal growth are typically "attained," whereas objects, permissions, or tangible items are usually "obtained."
While you attain a new skill by practicing and learning, you obtain a new gadget by buying or receiving it.

Comparison Chart

Basic Definition

Achieve a goal or level
Acquire or get something

Part of Speech


Example Usage

Attain mastery
Obtain permission

Associated Actions

Reach, achieve
Get, procure


Accomplish, reach
Acquire, procure

Attain and Obtain Definitions


Reach or achieve.
He worked hard to attain his goals.


Get or acquire.
She managed to obtain the rare book.


Succeed in achieving.
Through dedication, she attained excellence in her field.


Be prevalent, customary, or established.
The same rules obtain for everyone.


Arrive at (a place).
After hours of hiking, they attained the summit.


Secure (something) as a result of effort.
Through hard work, he obtained the promotion.


Reach (a particular age, size, or amount).
The tree can attain a height of 20 feet.


Succeed in gaining.
She obtained a grant for her research.


Accomplish or realize (a goal).
They hope to attain peace through dialogue.


Bring something into one's possession.
He obtained the documents through legal means.


To gain as an objective; achieve
Attain a diploma by hard work.


To succeed in gaining possession of as the result of planning or endeavor; acquire.


Is attain only about achieving goals?

Primarily, but it can also refer to reaching a place, age, or size.

Can one attain a book?

Not typically. One would more likely "obtain" a book.

Can you obtain mastery?

While you can "attain" mastery through effort, it's less common to say "obtain" mastery.

Is it correct to say "obtain a milestone"?

No, milestones are typically "attained."

Is obtain about physical possession?

Often, but it can also refer to gaining rights, permissions, or conditions.

Can you attain permission?

It's more typical to "obtain" permission.

Can you obtain knowledge?

While less common, it can be used to mean acquiring knowledge from a source.

Is obtain more transactional?

Often, as it implies getting or securing something.

What's the antonym of obtain?

Lose or fail to get.

Can one obtain a height or level?

No, one would "attain" a height or level.

Can obtain be used in the sense of prevailing conditions?

Yes, as in "the same rules obtain for everyone."

Can a person attain objects?

Not typically. Objects are usually obtained.

Can you attain knowledge?

Yes, through learning and experience.

Can something be both attained and obtained?

In some contexts, yes, like achieving and getting a degree.

Is attain always about a long journey or process?

Often, but not always. It can simply mean to reach or achieve.

Can one obtain age or size?

No, one would "attain" a certain age or size.

Is attain more about personal achievement?

Generally, yes. It often implies effort and accomplishment.

Which word indicates more effort: attain or obtain?

Typically, "attain" implies more effort in reaching a goal or status.

Which word is more about possession?


Is there any overlap in the usage of attain and obtain?

Occasionally, especially when discussing achievements like degrees.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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