Posted by: Jack Henry | June 9, 2016

Editor’s Corner: Get it girl!

Get It, Girl!

My apologies for the length of this email, but this is a topic many of you have asked about and commented on, so I want to be thorough. I did a little bit of nipping and tucking, but it’s still a long article. The consideration is whether get and got are proper English. (For the fuller piece, see Grammar Girl.)

No style guide I checked bans the use of “get.” In fact, most authorities laud how useful the word is. The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage provides a list of “natural uses in which it passes virtually unnoticed:

· get a job

· get my book for me

· get rich

· get one’s feet wet

· flattery will get you nowhere

· get going

· get the upper hand, etc.”

A search for “get” on yields one group of meanings that is 63 items long. You can even use “get” instead of “be” in passive constructions if you want to put more emphasis on who did the action. [KC – Symitar Editing would call you out on this!] The American Heritage Dictionary compares these two sentences: “The demonstrators were arrested” and “The demonstrators got arrested”. In the first sentence, using the verb “to be” implies that the police were the driving force behind the arrest. In the second sentence, using the verb “to get” places more emphasis on the demonstrators themselves.

Tenses of “Get”

Now let’s get to the question of tense. “Get” and “gets” are the present-tense forms of “to get,” as in “She gets mad at herself when she’s late.” The past tense is “got,” as in “She got mad.”

Now comes the tricky part: we have two choices when it comes to the past participle. A past participle is a word like “broken” in this sentence: “She has broken her wrist twice.” If you speak American English, you will use “gotten” as the past participle, as in “He has gotten the same gift three years in a row.” Users of British English, on the other hand, will say “got”: “He has got the same gift three years in a row.”

When You Might Choose Another Word Instead of “Get”

As we’ve already said, “get” is normal English, and there’s no need to substitute another word for it. However, if you’re writing a very formal paper, or know that someone in your audience will object to the word “get” for some reason, you can use more formal words such as “receive,” “purchase,” and “obtain.” It’s up to you to decide when to be formal.

“Have Got”

Many listeners have been wondering if the phrase “have got” is acceptable English. Well, you have got to check out our previous episode on that topic. It’ll tell you that the answer is yes, you can use this expression, though it is considered informal.

Non-Standard Uses

Before we get going, you should get up to speed on which expressions are considered non-standard. Some colloquial or informal uses of “get” and “got” are controversial, and you wouldn’t want to write them unless you’re writing a character who speaks slang. For example, it would not be Standard English to say, “You got to try this” if you mean “You must try this” or “You have got to try this.” “You got to try this” would be acceptable only if you mean “You had the opportunity to try this.” Still, you will hear people use “got” in this manner.

Another common use of “got” that is not technically grammatically correct is the advertising slogan “Got milk?” Nevertheless, you’ll still hear takeoffs of this expression. At a recent dentist appointment, I saw a shirt that read “Got braces?”

Thus is the unholy power of advertising.


In this episode, we got friendly with the useful word “get.” You get to use it whenever you want, unless you must conform to formality.

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

619-542-6773 | Ext: 766773

Symitar Documentation Services

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