• IPA: /əˈteɪn/

attain (attains, present participle attaining; 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.
    • circa 1595 William Shakespeare, Richard II (play), Act II, Scene 3,
      Lord Ross. Your presence makes us rich, most noble lord.
      Lord Willoughby. And far surmounts our labour to attain it.
    • 1848, William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair (novel), London: Bradbury and Evans, Chapter 63, p. 572,
      […] he will stick at no falsehood, or hesitate at no crime, to attain his ends.
    • 1885, W. S. Gilbert, The Mikado, London: Chappell & Co., Act I, p. 6,
      […] that’s the highest rank a citizen can attain!
    • 1937, George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier, New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1958, Part 1, Chapter 5, p. 82,
      […] solitude is never easy to attain in a working-class home
    • 2007, Mohsin Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Orlando: Harcourt, Chapter 11, p. 157,
      Where else could I […] hope to attain such an impressive income?
  2. (transitive) To reach or come to, by progression or motion; to arrive at (a place, time, state, etc.).
    • circa 1599 William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar (play), Act V, Scene 5,
      […] my bones would rest,
      That have but labour’d to attain this hour.
    • 1667, John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book 10, line 1026,
      Canaan he now attains,
    • 1792, Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, London: J. Johnson, Part 1, Chapter 4, p. 150,
      It has also been asserted, by some naturalists, that men do not attain their full growth and strength till thirty; but that women arrive at maturity by twenty.
    • 1818, Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, London: Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor, & Jones, Volume 1, Letter 3,
      the southern gales […] blow us speedily towards those shores which I so ardently desire to attain
  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, Book of Psalms 139.6,
      Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I can not attain unto it.
    • 1611, King James Version of the Bible, Book of Acts 27.12,
      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,
      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 (poem), Edinburgh: John Ballantyne, Canto 1, stanza 7, p. 10,
      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,
      Few boroughs had as yet attained to power such as this,
  4. (transitive, obsolete) To get at the knowledge of.
    Synonyms: ascertain
    • 1655, Thomas Fuller, The Church-History of Britain, London: John Williams, Century 13, section 2, p. ,
      […] Master William 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.
    Synonyms: equal
    • 1625, Francis Bacon, Essays (Francis Bacon), “Of Innovations,” p. 139,
      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,
      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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