‘Attain’ vs ‘Obtain’: What’s the Difference? Here we have two words that might be easily confused due to the fact that they rhyme and have the same ending. But what do they each mean, and how can we tell them apart?
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The frustrating thing about these two new words is that they sound similar, and their meanings are similar too. But they are just different enough that we’ve come up with some hints to help you separate them.
While both are verbs, ‘Attain’ has more to do with the intangible. Meanwhile, ‘Obtain’ has more to do with physical objects.
Of course, this isn’t a hard and fast rule, but it is a way to approach these words to help distinguish between them.
Perhaps though, the best way to tell the difference between the two is to learn more about their meanings. While these words are occasionally viewed as being synonyms of each other, they have their own meanings and are closely related to a whole bunch of other words. Let’s dive deeper into the definitions and uses of ‘Attain’ vs ‘Obtain.’
According to Oxford Languages, ‘Attain’ is a verb that means:
‘Attain’ comes from the Latin root ‘attingere,’ which means “to touch,” which then evolved into the Middle English ‘attain,’ which was synonymous with “bring to justice." In essence, the word has a history of signifying accomplishment and achievement.
The word ‘Obtain’ also stems from Latin but had an almost entirely direct and unchanged line of translation. The word stems from the Latin ‘obtinere,’ which meant “gain,” and we still see overlap in other languages today, like the Spanish ‘obtener’ which means to “have” or “acquire.”
Knowing the difference between the meaning of words is only half the battle, especially since there is so much more to vocabulary than writing. Knowing the correct pronunciation of each new word is just as important and will also help keep them more distinguished in your brain since they do sound so similar. Below you’ll find our pronunciation key.
Use this phonetic spelling of ‘Attain’ as a guide:
Use this phonetic spelling of ‘Obtain’ as a guide:
Note that you may hear some people pronounce a longer “O” sound, but it is not as common.
Sometimes the best way to learn is by example. Seeing new words in action can help identify all the ways they can be used and give you an idea beyond just the definitions of how a word appears in the real world. Let’s take a look at some example sentences to help clear up the difference between these two synonyms.
Sometimes the hardest words to learn are those that are connected to each other, much like ‘Attain’ vs ‘Obtain’ given that they are sometimes viewed as synonyms and also rhyme with each other. But learning the difference between the two is also the key to unlocking a whole variety of words that help expand your vocabulary. While learning synonyms can be frustrating, it is also incredibly powerful.
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Learning new vocabulary can be tricky, but it is certainly worth it, given how much it helps improve writing and linguistic understanding. Be sure to check out other confusing word articles to help parse through other similar words and keep expanding your knowledge of English.
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