"Obtention" shows up in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary. I've never seen it used, though I can't find any good alternatives. What context would you use it in, and when would it be appropriate/inappropriate? Also, is it a real word that people would recognize?

  • It's in the OED. – tchrist May 29 '17 at 0:09
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    What context are you using it in that calls for an alternative? Sounds like a variation of obtaining, like abstaining / abstention. – Yosef Baskin May 29 '17 at 2:21
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    Anything can be a word if you get enough people to say it. – SurpriseDog Jun 28 at 2:51
  • I wouldn't use it, and the only context where it seems right to me is where it is used as a nominal form of obtain in the sense of subsist, as in the situation that then obtained. If you nominalise that you get the obtention of that situation - in that phrase I think obtention is better than obtaining or obtainment, but I still wouldn't use it because the construction itself is too convoluted. – user339660 Jun 28 at 4:08
  • You answer your own question in the first sentence. – marcellothearcane Jul 1 at 21:08

The definition is "the action of attaining something."

The definition for acquisition is almost identical:

The buying or obtaining of assets or objects.

(Lexico, powered by Oxford, def 1.2)

In the example sentence from the definition of obtention:

Their protests serve no purpose and will only make their obtention of a diploma almost impossible.

(Lexico, powered by Oxford)

"Acquisition" could also work. But "attainment" would be better.

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    Thanks. It's a common mistake here. I really did mean the actual OED in my original comment, which is where I'd found it. – tchrist May 29 '17 at 2:31

There are zero hits for obtention in the Corpus of Contemporary American English. That suggests it is very rare, and most people would not recognize it. Whether or not readers could ascertain its meaning would depend on the particular readers.

It would probably only be useful in certain narrow, abstract contexts.


Historically, obtention may have been problematic for a somewhat surprising reason: it might easily be confused with obtension—a noun form not of obtain but of obtend, which has a very different meaning from "obtain." Here are the entries for obtend, obtension, and obtention that appear in The Century Dictionary: An Encyclopedic Lexicon of the English Language, volume 3 (1914):

obtendv.t. {< L. obtendere, stretch or draw before, < ob, before, + tendere, stretch : see tend.} 1. To oppose; hold out in opposition. [Example:] 'Twas given to you your darling son to shrowd, / To draw the dastard from the fighting crowd, / And for a man obtend an empty cloud. —Dryden, Aeneid, x. 126. 2. To pretend; allege; plead as an excuse; offer as the reason of anything. [Example:] Thou dost with lies the throne invade, / Obtending Heaven for whate'er ills befal. —Dryden, Iliad, i. 161.


obtensionn. {< LL. obtentio(n-) a covering, veiling, obscurity, < L. obtendere, pp. obtentus, a covering over: see obtend.} The act of obtending. Johnson.

obtention n. {= F. obtention, OF obtention = Sp. obtención = Pg. obtenção, < LL. as if obtentio(n-) < L. obtinere, pp. obtentus, hold, keep, get, acquire: see obtain.} Procurement; obtainment. {Rare.} [Example:] There was no possibility of granting a pension to a foreigner who resided in his own country while that country was at open war with the land whence he aspired at its obtention: a word I make for my passing convenience. —Mme. D'Arblay, Diary, VII, 140. (Davies.)

The dagger symbol that appears in the entries for obtend and obtension signifies "obsolete." Still, in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, even the ghost of obtension lingering on the misty periphery of the language may have helped dissuade English speakers from rushing to embrace obtention, especially as obtending has very little overlap in meaning with obtaining. It is interesting in this regard that the Century Dictionary suggests "obtainment" as being the core meaning of obtention; whereas the dictionary labels obtention "Rare," it attaches no such label to obtainment.