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[uh b-teyn] /əbˈteɪn/
verb (used with object)
to come into possession of; get, acquire, or procure, as through an effort or by a request:
to obtain permission; to obtain a better income.
Obsolete. to attain or reach.
verb (used without object)
to be prevalent, customary, or in vogue; prevail:
the morals that obtained in Rome.
Archaic. to succeed.
Origin of obtain
late Middle English
1375-1425; late Middle English obteinen < Middle French obtenir < Latin obtinēre to take hold of, equivalent to ob- ob- + -tinēre (combining form of tenēre to hold)
Related forms
obtainable, adjective
obtainability, noun
obtainer, noun
obtainment, noun
preobtain, verb (used with object)
preobtainable, adjective
reobtain, verb (used with object)
reobtainable, adjective
unobtainable, adjective
unobtained, adjective
1. gain, achieve, earn, win, attain. See get.
1. lose, forgo. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for unobtainable
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • Flowers were unobtainable, but a frame in the form of a giant horseshoe was constructed and covered over with pine-cones.

    The Promise James B. Hendryx
  • Yes, Smithson; but such a treasure seems to be unobtainable.

    The Queen's Scarlet George Manville Fenn
  • By actual experience I soon found that immediate work was unobtainable.

    Broke Edwin A. Brown
  • The particulars of his shipwreck are unobtainable, as is often the case with other explorers.

    The Campers Out Edward S. Ellis
  • All the previous reprints have been and now are unobtainable to most persons.

    Roister Doister Nicholas Udall
  • Tea was fifty dollars a pound, and real coffee was unobtainable.

  • The formation in rank is then an ideal, unobtainable in modern war, but toward which we should strive.

    Battle Studies Charles-Jean-Jacques-Joseph Ardant du Picq
  • New suits of clothes were unobtainable at any price, for there was no cloth.

British Dictionary definitions for unobtainable


not able to be obtained


(transitive) to gain possession of; acquire; get
(intransitive) to be customary, valid, or accepted: a new law obtains in this case
(transitive) (archaic) to arrive at
(intransitive) (archaic) to win a victory; succeed
Derived Forms
obtainable, adjective
obtainability, noun
obtainer, noun
obtainment, noun
Word Origin
C15: via Old French from Latin obtinēre to take hold of, from ob- (intensive) + tenēre to hold
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for unobtainable

1775, from un- (1) "not" + obtainable. Related: Unobtainability.



early 15c., from Middle French obtenir "acquire, obtain" (14c.), from Latin obtinere "hold, hold fast, take hold of, get possession of, acquire," from ob "to" (though perhaps intensive in this case; see ob-) + tenere "to hold" (see tenet). Related: Obtained; obtaining.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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