From Anglo-Norman ataindre, from Old French, from Latin attingō.


  • IPA(key): /əˈteɪn/
  • (file)
  • Rhymes: -eɪn


attain (third-person singular simple present attains, present participle attaining, simple past and past participle attained)

  1. (transitive) To gain (an object or desired result).
    Synonyms: accomplish, achieve, get
    To attain such a high level of proficiency requires hours of practice each day.
  2. (transitive) To reach or come to, by progression or motion; to arrive at (a place, time, state, etc.).
  3. (intransitive) To come or arrive, by motion, growth, bodily exertion, or efforts toward a place, object, state, etc.
    Synonyms: get, reach
    • 1611, King James Version of the Bible, Psalm 139.6,[10]
      Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I can not attain unto it.
    • 1611, King James Version of the Bible, Acts 27.12,[11]
      if by any means they might attain to Phenice
    • 1782, William Cowper, letter to Joseph Hill dated 11 November, 1782, in Private Correspondence of William Cowper, London: Henry Colburn, 1824, Volume 1, p. 222,[12]
      You may not, perhaps, live to see your trees attain to the dignity of timber—I, nevertheless, approve of your planting, and the disinterested spirit that prompts you to it.
    • 1810, Walter Scott, The Lady of the Lake, Edinburgh: John Ballantyne, Canto 1, stanza 7, p. 10,[13]
      For, scarce a spear’s length from his haunch,
      Vindictive toiled the blood-hounds staunch;
      Nor nearer might the dogs attain,
      Nor farther might the quarry strain.
    • 1874, John Richard Green, A Short History of the English People, London: Macmillan, Chapter 2, Section 6, p. 90,[14]
      Few boroughs had as yet attained to power such as this,
  4. (transitive, obsolete) To get at the knowledge of.
    Synonym: ascertain
    • 1655, Thomas Fuller, The Church-History of Britain, London: John Williams, Century 13, section 2, p. ,[15]
      [] Master Camden, sometimes acknowledgeth, sometimes denieth him for an English Earle. Not that I accuse him as inconstant to himself, but suspect my self not well attaining his meaning therein.
  5. (transitive, obsolete) To reach in excellence or degree.
    Synonym: equal
    • 1625, Francis Bacon, Essays, “Of Innovations,” p. 139,[16]
      Yet notwithstanding as Those that first bring Honour into their Family, are commonly more worthy, then most that succeed: So the first President (if it be good) is seldome attained by Imitation.
  6. (transitive, obsolete) To reach a person after being behind them.
    Synonyms: catch up with, overtake
    • 1622, Francis Bacon, History of the Reign of King Henry VII, London, 1629, p. 174,[17]
      The Earle finding [] the enemie retired, pursued with all celeritie into Scotland; hoping to haue ouer-taken the Scottish King, and to haue giuen him Battaile; But not attaining him in time, sate downe before the Castle of Aton [] which in a small time hee tooke.

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