The Typical Uses of ‘Get’
In this post we’re going to look at some of the most typical uses of ‘get’. Students often ask us what ‘get’ means, and the truth is that there’s no simple answer. It’s only a three-letter verb, but it can be very confusing for non-native speakers. In fact, it’s a very BIG little verb!
The main dictionary definition of ‘get’ is ‘obtain’, but we also use it as a synonym for many other verbs. It’s extremely common in spoken English. In fact you’ll hear it in most conversations between native speakers, and in a wide variety of situations.
Using ‘get’ correctly can really help you sound more natural when speaking. (In formal writing, it’s usually better to use a more specific verb.)
Let’s start with just five synonyms. Look at the words in bold in the text – what ‘get’ means is different in each case. In which sentence can you replace ‘get’ with earn, become, have, achieve and find?
Well, you’ve finally finished your studies and it’s time to get a job. It’s not always easy, so don’t get depressed if it takes longer than you think. Even if you got good marks in your final exams you might not get a good salary straightaway. So you’ve got to be patient – be prepared to start at the bottom and work your way up!
It would take too long to go through all the ways we use this ‘wild card’ verb, as it appears in many expressions. But we’ve got to start somewhere! So have you worked out the five synonyms in the text above yet? That’s right – you can find a job, become depressed, achieve good marks and earn a good salary. And instead of just saying ‘have to’ as a synonym of ‘must’, we often say have got to.
[NOTE: The use of ‘have got’ to denote possession is very common in British English (I’ve got an old car). In American English it’s not so common (I have an old car). And another difference is in the grammar. British English: get– got – got / American English: get – got – gotten.]
Get + Adjective
We can use ‘get’ as a synonym of ‘become’ with many adjectives, often to describe a process or change. For example:
It’s getting late and I’m getting tired– I should go home. I’m getting cold – can I borrow a jacket? It’s getting dark much earlier now September’s started. I’m getting hungry – let’s eat. My English is getting better all the time!
Get + Past Participle
Another common use of ‘get’ is with past participles. We use this combination much more often than just the verb itself. For example:
Many couples who get married very young end up getting divorced (not just the verbs ‘marry’ and ‘divorce’).
In the morning you get dressed, then before bed you get undressed (not just ‘dress’ and ‘undress’).
Sorry I’m late – I got lost and Google Maps didn’t work (more common than ‘I lost my way’)
The most typical uses of ‘get’ as a substitute for other verbs
It’s extremely common to use ‘get’ as a substitute for the following ten verbs:
buy, catch, understand, earn, receive, take, arrive, win, become, fetch*
*’fetch’ has a very similar meaning to ‘bring’, but it also involves going to pick something up, not only bringing it from where you are.
So we’ll begin with a written exercise on this aspect – get a pen and paper! Read these sentences and try to decide what ‘get’ means in each case. Then rewrite the sentence with one of the verbs from the list. Remember to match the verb-form and tense. (Answers at the bottom of the page.)
- Did you get my letter?
- We can get something to eat in Mari-Carmen’s shop.
- I won’t kiss you, because I don’t want to get your cold.
- Let’s get a later train.
- Everyone else laughed, but I didn’t get the joke.
- He gets about £1,500 a month.
- I got really fat during the first lockdown*, as we couldn’t go out to exercise.
- Do you mind getting my jacket? I think I left it upstairs.
- It was a great party, but I didn’t get home till 1am.
- Team GB got 27 gold medals at the 2016 Olympics.
*‘lockdown’ is how we refer to the period when nobody could leave their house because of the Covid 19 pandemic
Now do this mini-test to see how much you remember.
Phrasal verbs with ‘get’
Another of the typical uses of ‘get’ is in phrasal verbs. We usually prefer to teach these by theme; for example, phrasal verbs for language-learning or for travel. This is because a long list with the same verb is very difficult to remember. There are dozens of phrasal verbs with ‘get’, and it would be impossible to cover all of them here. What’s more, as is common with phrasal verbs, some can have more than one meaning or use. However, let’s have a look at some of the most common ones with ‘get’. We’ve grouped them by theme where possible.
You get in / get out of a car or a taxi.
But you get on / get off a bus, train, plane, ship: forms of transport large enough to walk on.
You also get on / get off a bike, motorbike or horse.
You get up (leave your bed) in the mornings.
If you’re ill, you hope to get over (recover from) it quickly.
You also try to get over (put behind you, move on from) relationship break-ups.
It’s important to try to get on (have a good relationship) with your family and friends.
Recently I’ve been getting into (becoming interested in) science fiction books.
I don’t speak much Portuguese, but I know enough to get by (manage/survive).
But sometimes it’s hard to get across (communicate) exactly what I mean.
I tried ringing that number, but I couldn’t get through to (make contact with) the manager.
I told her how I felt, but she wouldn’t listen – I just couldn’t get through to her (make her understand).
Now do this phrasal verb mini-test to see how much you remember.
Learn about the grammar of phrasal verbs in How to Use Phrasal Verbs.
You’ll find all our vocabulary exercises in the Guide to the Posts.
You’ll also find all our Aptis exam-style vocabulary tests there. Or look at the compilation post Aptis Core Test: Vocabulary and Grammar.
And if you want more vocabulary practice, we recommend the excellent ‘English in Use’ series below.
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- Did you receive my letter?
- We can buy something to eat in Mari-Carmen’s shop.
- I won’t kiss you, because I don’t want to catch your cold.
- Let’s take a later train.
- Everyone else laughed, but I didn’t understand the joke.
- He earns about £1,500 a month.
- I became really fat during the first lockdown, as we couldn’t go out to exercise.
- Do you mind fetching my jacket? I think I left it upstairs.
- It was a great party, but I didn’t arrive home till 1am.
- Team GB won 27 gold medals at the 2016 Olympics.