How to get to grips with the verb « get »

swiss-knifeI seem to have had a lot of questions lately about the very versatile verb get.  It is one of the 100 commonest words in the English language, and one of the top 20 verbs.  It has very diverse meanings, and is used in a variety of ways.  Specialists will say that it is not usually good form to use get in writing, but it’s so useful that it is difficult to avoid.

Here is a summary of the main ways we use get.

1. Get + noun/pronoun

When get is followed by a noun or pronoun, it usually means something like receive, fetch, obtain, or catch…

I got a postcard from Darren yesterday.

Did you get some flour when you went to the supermarket?

Wrap up warmly so you don’t get a cold.

2. Get + adjective

When get is followed by an adjective, it usually means become…

I can’t climb those stairs so quickly these days – I must be getting old.

Turn that radiator on so you can get warm .

3. Get + preposition

When get is followed by a preposition, usually some kind of change or movement is implied…

What time do you usually get up in the morning?

Why don’t you get out of the house and get some fresh air?

4. Get + past participle

A. Get is often used for expressions where other European languages use reflexive verbs.  We use this to talk about something we do to ourselves:

get dressed
get lost
get engaged
get married
get divorced
get confused

B. Get can also replace be in passive structures such as…

The thief got caught when he used a stolen credit card (= was caught).

I got invited to Terry’s wedding (= was invited).

C. When there is an object before the past participle it can mean to finish doing something…

It has been so humid lately that it takes days to get the washing dried.

Get your room tidied and we’ll go to the park.

D. We can use the same structure (get + object + past participle) to talk about arranging for something to be done by somebody else.

I must get my hair cut – it’s looking terrible.

Peter has gone to the garage to ask about getting the car fixed.

5. Other uses:

get + -ing usually has the meaning to start doing something:

You should get going otherwise you’ll miss your train. ( = you should leave now)

get + to + infinitive often has the meaning to persuade:

I can’t get my husband to agree on the colour of the carpet.

This little list doesn’t cover every use of get, but it’s enough to get you started.  If you get stuck you could always get yourself a dictionary.  Don’t get frustrated if you find it difficult to understand all the uses of get.  It gets easier as you get used to the language.  So, why don’t you get on with it?

10 Commentaires

  1. 18 avril 2009 à 2 h 23 min

    Very informative post! I sometimes get confused with using these « get expressions ».

  2. 1 juin 2009 à 16 h 45 min

    Thank you for sharing this concise primer on a difficult, even annoying verb!

  3. picky29-Reply
    9 mars 2010 à 11 h 37 min

    Exactly was I was looking for, thanks!

  4. T Lieberman-Reply
    17 septembre 2010 à 22 h 51 min

    I’m trying to identify the difference between « to get them money » (that is, to get money for them; for example, by investing their money wisely) and « to get their money » (for example, by beating them at a card game). I am a native speaker and I know there is a difference but I cannot explain the grammatical reason for it.

    Today an English language learner brought my attention to the difference between « to save them money » and « to save their money ». I sense that the meanings are not quite identical. I wonder if it is for the same grammatical reason as with the verb « to get, » or if it is for an unrelated reason having to do with the fact that these words simply have multiple meanings?

  5. zooz-Reply
    27 avril 2011 à 21 h 04 min

    You’r great. I can’t believe how simple you’ve made it sound. Thanks a lot

  6. Bido-Reply
    16 août 2012 à 17 h 17 min

    Thank you so much…It is very useful information

  7. Bill-Reply
    20 août 2012 à 23 h 21 min

    I’m a native speaker, but I usually think « get expressions » are very much slang. I would personally instruct foreign learners to avoid using the verb whenever possible.

    • 23 août 2012 à 11 h 47 min

      Thanks Bill, although as « get » is one of the ten most common verbs in the English language, I’m not sure that it’s very practical to try and avoid it.

  8. Jeff Keith-Reply
    3 mars 2013 à 2 h 39 min

    I conceive of « get » as having several different synonyms: get-obtain, get-become, get-move yourself, and get-arrive. I note that you didn’t mention « get-arrive » above. « What time does the train get to Philadelphia? » « What time does the bus get to Market Street? » I am a native speaker in the USA, and I certainly disagree with Bill above that « get » is slang. (But I don’t write academic papers; I just teach ESL a lot.)

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