I can't decide between those two words.

You need to acquire handling instructions.
You need to obtain handling instructions.

Both mean roughly the same, describing an act of gaining possession of something. In my mind, there might be a distinction in how active/passive the recipient is expected to be. However, I can't tell which one, if any, would be more go-getty and which would lean towards bestowy-upony.

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    Possible duplicate of Can you say: acquire or obtain business? Also A comparison between the verbs: “attain, ”achieve“, obtain”, “acquire” and “gain”. Sometimes acquire carries stronger connotations of by stealth or other unconventional / dishonourable methods, but that's not a hard-and-fast distinction. Oct 27, 2019 at 17:46
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    See the article "get" on p. 372 of Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Synonyms—a great resource for these kinds of word choices.
    – Ben Kovitz
    Oct 27, 2019 at 18:03
  • @Konrad. Where are you based - M-W has a rather strong bias towards US usage...
    – MikeB
    Oct 27, 2019 at 18:09
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    @BenKovitz: Indeed. I see MW say "acquire" may suggest devious acquisition - which agrees with my by stealth comment. But any such distinction won't always apply, and there's plenty of scope for that nuance to be either intended or not by a speaker, AND understood or not by a listener. So on average, learners would probably be better off assuming they really are "the same" - if they want to be sure of conveying this optional nuance of difference, it would be better to do it explicitly (using more and/or clearer words). Oct 27, 2019 at 18:13
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    Thank you but it would require a lot of research to support my contrasting opinion as a formal answer. Note the remark from @BenKovitz! Oct 27, 2019 at 20:45

1 Answer 1


I expect that every answer you get will suggest a different degree of stress for each, and fractionally different connotations, but I also suspect that they will average out, with roughly 50% saying that 'acquire' is stronger than 'obtain', and vice-versa, possibly with some degree of regional variation.

'Acquire' is often used in the context of 'theft', but it is also used so frequently without that connotation that I don't think you should worry about that unduly.

  • Why the downvotes? This seems to me to be a perfectly reasonable answer—maybe the wisest possible answer, since it steers the OP away from putting more thought into this word choice than it needs.
    – Ben Kovitz
    Oct 27, 2019 at 19:42
  • Interesting with the downvotes. I have not downvoted, for the record. In fact, I find your reply clear and likely to be true. So I'll +1 you in a jiffy. That being said, what do you think in the regard of strength of those two? Oct 27, 2019 at 20:34
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    I think that someone simply had a bad day. Clicking downvote, kicking a dog... Stuff like that happen to the best of us, sadly. The question was marked as a dupe but the other question has nothing to do with mine at all, accept coincidental term choice. Just a bad day. Luckily, I'm not easily offended. (If one is easily offended, Internet is not for them.) Oct 27, 2019 at 20:46

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