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exercisesThe different uses of ‘get’

The different uses of ‘get’

For most English students, the verb ‘get’ can seem quite confusing. You can hear native speakers use it in almost every conversation. What does it mean? And why do you find it in so many different situations? Read on to find out and start to feel more confident using ‘get’.

‘Get’ – an introduction

The verb ‘get’ is well-known to most students of English because it has many different meanings and uses. Not only does it have a lot of meanings on its own but also several more when combined with a preposition or adverb to create phrasal verbs.

The best way to learn all the different meanings of ‘get’ is to do so gradually during a course. This lets you become familiar with the various uses one by one.

The aim of this guide is to give you a general understanding of ‘get’ and help you be more prepared when you learn a new use of the verb.

What can ‘get’ mean?

The most common meanings of ‘get’ are the following:

   1. Obtain

I need to get some files from the archives.

Can you get some paper from the cupboard?

   2. Take

She gets the train to work every day.

We can get a cab back to the hotel.

   3. Receive

Did you get my email yesterday?

She got a beautiful necklace for her birthday.

   4. Buy

We must get some milk. There isn’t any left.

Shall we get some fruit too?

   5. Become

It’s getting colder. Put on your jacket.

You can get better at English by practicing.

   6. Arrive

They left at 4:30 and got home at 5:30.

When do you think you’ll get here?

   7. Understand

I didn’t get what he said. Did you?

He got the joke but I didn’t.

   8. Make something happen

You should get your hair cut. It’s really long.

We’re getting the car checked before our holiday.

When and when not to use ‘get’

In most cases we can choose whether to use the traditional verb (as numbered above) or ‘get’ as an alternative. But native speakers tend to prefer using ‘get’ whenever possible, especially when speaking. So I recommend you start using it yourself so you’re prepared to understand it when you hear it.

When you write in a formal context, it’s better to avoid using ‘get’ because it sounds quite informal. In this case, use the more traditional verbs.

Common phrasal verbs with ‘get’

As well as ‘get’ having several meanings on its own, there are several phrasal verbs that use ‘get’. As you’ve probably already seen, a phrasal verb is a verb that has two or three words, based on a verb + a preposition or adverb.

There are quite a few phrasal verbs with ‘get’ that you already know and use without even thinking about it. For example, What time do you get up? ‘Get up’ means to leave your bed in the morning.

Let’s have a look at some of the most important phrasal verbs with ‘get’.

  • get on – enter a train/bus/plane/boat/bike

Here’s the bus. Let’s get on.

  • get off – descend from a train/bus/plane/boat/bike

We got off the plane and went to passport control.

  • get in – enter a car, swimming pool or container

He got in the car and put on his seatbelt.

  • get out – exit from a car, swimming pool or container

Ok kids, we’ve arrived. You can get out now.

  • get up – leave your bed in the morning

They usually get up at 7:30.

  • get back – return

We should get back by 7:30. Can you wait for us?

  • get over – recover from a sickness or difficult situation

I had flu last week but I’ve got over it now.

  • get on/along with – to have a good relationship

Do you get on with your colleagues?

  • get across – successfully communicate an idea

I’m not sure I got my ideas across in the meeting.

  • get by – survive, manage

My French isn’t good but I know enough to get by.

  • get through – make contact with

She can’t get through to Mr Black. The line’s engaged.

  • get away with – do something and not be caught or punished

He stole some money from the firm but no one found out so he got away with it.

Passive form with ‘get’

Another use of ‘get’ is in the passive form. We usually make the passive form with the verb ‘to be’ and the past participle of a verb. For example,

Their car was stolen last night.

But as an alternative in an informal situation, we can use ‘get’ instead of the verb ‘to be’. For example,

Their car got stolen last night.

It’s very common to use ‘get’ in passives when describing a negative situation, as in the example above. We don’t use ‘get’ in passives when we describe who or when something was created. For example,

This house was built in 1978. (Not, got built.)

Have got

The past form of ‘get’ is also used in combination with ‘have’ to express possession in a similar way to ‘have’. For example,

She’s got a new car. It’s beautiful.

Have you got any brothers and sisters?

I’ve got a cold. I need some tissues.

The form ‘have got’ is very common in spoken English but is a little more informal than ‘have’. So when you write in a formal situation, it’s preferable to use ‘have’. For example,

We have all the material you need for the order. (Not, We’ve got.)

As you can see, ‘get’ is an extremely versatile verb, and by using it you’ll sound like a native speaker! Make a start today by doing this fun quiz to practice.

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