How to use ‘get’ in different contexts

by Erin McGann
May 12, 2021
man searching How to use ‘get’ in different contexts

One of an English speaker’s favourite words is ‘get’. We use it in so many different situations, often without thinking about it at all. It’s one of those words with so many meanings, it can be confusing for English learners to understand – or as a native speaker would say ‘to get your head around’. See, I’m starting already!

The 9 different ways to use ‘get’ in English

1. To receive

We use ‘get’ to explain we’re receiving something, both physical things and not physical things. ‘I got lots of chocolate for Easter’, is another way of saying I received lots of chocolate. But I could also say, ‘I’ve got a cold’, to mean I am sick with a cold, and although at some point I physically received cold germs, I’m really only saying ‘I’m sick’!  

2. To catch

In the same way we say ‘I caught a cold’, like someone threw us a ball, we also say ‘I got a cold’. But this also applies to other things we might ‘catch’, like a train or a bus. ‘Will you get the 9:30 train?’ is the same as saying ‘Will you catch the 9:30 train?’. 

3. To buy 

Confusingly, ‘get’ also means to buy something. If it was my friend’s birthday tomorrow, I would say ‘I will get her a present’, when what I mean is ‘I will buy her a present’. If I’m discussing the birthday party with her sister, I could also say, ‘I’ll get the wine’. This means I will buy the wine, but it also means I will bring it – maybe I have some nice wine at home I will bring. It doesn’t have to mean I am intending to buy it. If you’re having lunch with someone at a restaurant, and the bill comes, they take it and say, ‘I’ll get this’ – this means you’re getting a free lunch! They are saying, ‘I will buy/pay for this’. 

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4. To get something done to us

This sounds a bit scary, but when we have paid to have a service, like a hair cut or going to the dentist, we use ‘get’. Like, ‘I finally got my hair cut’, or ‘I’m getting my teeth checked next week’. Many boring things need to ‘get done’. I have to ‘get the laundry on’, ‘get the groceries’, and ‘get my laptop repaired’ tomorrow. Sounds like a very exciting day! 

5. To become

We use ‘get’ together with other words to describe becoming something different. For example: ‘I’m getting better at the saxophone, but my neighbour doesn’t think so’. We talk about ‘getting fit’, ‘getting healthy’, and ‘getting stronger’. It doesn’t need to be a positive change, we also say ‘getting worse’ and ‘getting weaker’. In all these sentences, we could have replaced ‘getting’ for ‘becoming’ without changing the meaning, but in casual speak, English speakers will use ‘getting’ because ‘becoming’ sounds quite formal.

6. To arrive

Talking about arriving in a new place, we will say ‘I get there at 10pm’. If it’s a specific place, like a city or even just a café across town, you would say ‘I get to Toronto at 2pm’, or ‘I’ll get to the café at 2pm’. You also ‘get home’ and ‘get to the office’. 

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7. Get and phrasal verbs

There are a lot of these, so let’s look at some of the most used ones. ‘To get along with’ someone means you have a reasonably good relationship with someone but you’re not good friends. ‘To get out of’ something means you avoided having to do something were supposed to do – ‘I got out of that super long meeting’. ‘To get rid of’ something or someone is to throw it away. ‘To get up to something’ means you’re doing something you’re not supposed to – when my son was a toddler, silence from his room meant he was getting up to something and I should go check!

8. Possession in two different ways! 

When it comes to the phrase ‘have got’, British English and American English have two different approaches. British English uses ‘have got’ where sometimes American English will change the ‘got’ to ‘gotten’. Both are correct, so there’s no real need to worry about this, English speakers of all kinds will understand whether you say ‘He’s got to his appointments quite late this week’ or ‘He’s gotten to his appointment quite late this week’. 

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9. And finally – to understand

A common phrase for asking if someone understands something is: ‘do you get it?’ This is asking if you understand something. A friend might be really thrilled about their new partner because ‘they really get me’, which means they feel understood. Some people have an annoying habit of telling you a joke and then immediately asking ‘get it??’ to confirm you understand it. Particularly if you didn’t laugh. You can say: ‘Yes I got it, the joke just wasn’t very funny’. 

Now you can tell your Lingoda teacher ‘Got it!’ next time you want to say you understand something. 

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