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I’ve been told before that I should always avoid the word “got”.

I was reading another question and the phrase “I got burnt” was being thrown around quite a bit, whereas I think “I was burnt” sounds much better grammatically.

Similarly, instead of “I got some mail”, “I received some mail”, and, “I earned straight A’s” instead of “I got straight A’s”.

Is there any basis for this, or are there times when “got” really is the best choice?

  • August 13, 2005
  • Posted by gp2
  • Filed in Grammar

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While there may be times when "got" is inappropriate, there's nothing fundamentally wrong with it. It's a perfectly valid word, actually, a fundamental one, crucial to the language, like to be, to go, etc. Often, get and have seem to be interchangeable, but they do not mean the same thing. If you have something, it is in your possession. If you get something, then at one time it was not in your possession, but now it is. "Get" describes a change in state from not having to having.

Let's take "you have mail" vs. "you've got mail" as an example. The former means there is mail in your inbox. You are in possession of it. The latter means that there is new mail in your mailbox; that is, there is mail in your mailbox that wasn't there before. You received it. While both may be true, They do not mean the same thing at all. Consider this: if you've got mail, then, of course, you must have mail. On the other hand, if you have mail, you must have got/gotten it from somewhere, at least at some point in the past, so you've got mail. This entanglement is probably the source of some of the confusion, at least in part.

porsche January 13, 2010, 5:03pm

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"Get" has a bad reputation. Yet it's got solid provenance: by Middle English out of Old Norse. "Get" has been around for so long that it's acquired multitudinous meanings. It's a strong word, sharp and guttural, which, I suspect, is why it's suspect.

So what's wrong with "get," which Merriam-Webster's "Dictionary of English Usage" calls "one of the more important verbs in English"? They say it's because "get" is perceived to be "vigorous." That may be true. "Get" might be a four-letter word if it weren't a three-letter one. And there are almost always gentler words available. "Choice English" prefers gentler words, even to the point of blandness.

Get with it. Get it done. Get going. Get Carter. Get the point? There is nothing wrong with get, got or gotten. Got it?

douglas.bryant January 12, 2010, 11:02pm

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I would avoid the word "get" in very formal expository writing, especially in, say, scholarly research papers, legal papers or application essays for universities where you have a lot at stake - situations in which your credibility, grade or acceptance are on line.

If you have nothing to lose, or if your university writing requirements allow more room for creativity, go ahead and use "get". It's a multifarious word!

Chris February 18, 2006, 4:33am

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mara is right, got is past tense of get.
got would used properly in a sentence such as
"did you get the pictures?"
"yes, i got them"
"did you get straight A's?"
"yes, i got straight A's"

russ September 27, 2005, 12:34am

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"They got along well together, considering they got together yesterday!!" I used some of this from Interesting!!!!

Christine September 26, 2005, 2:59pm

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Agree with all of the comments.

AOL's "You've got mail" jingle always bothered me. The phrase should have been "You have mail".

"Got" is one of the most over-used words in modern spoken English.

"I got to go" when the speaker means "I need to go" is a prime example.

Robby Love September 26, 2005, 2:20pm

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The phrase "They got along well together" seems to be a case where "got" is proper.

Interesting September 26, 2005, 1:27pm

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If you don't want to avoid got, then you don't got to.

Chris September 26, 2005, 1:02pm

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Avoid both. Dreadful English.

A556 September 25, 2005, 7:25pm

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you got served.

waliwala September 10, 2005, 8:14pm

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Avoid it at your peril


m56 September 6, 2005, 10:33am

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"Got" is the past tense and a past participle of "get." It's no more to be avoided than "get" is.

mara August 16, 2005, 6:17pm

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Also I would say that got would be better in casual spoken context vs formal spoken. It really does not belong in written form unless it is in fiction and suits the style of the book/story.

EFL Geek August 15, 2005, 10:08am

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'Got' is one of the most useful and versatile words in the English language. There is nothing wrong with using 'got'. 'I got burnt' has a slightly different implication to 'I was burnt'. You are saying 'I became burnt', or 'something burnt me'. 'I was burnt' could refer to a previous burning. Nonetheless it's not a fixed rule; if it sounds right to you, use it.

pete August 15, 2005, 10:00am

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Yes     No