Sunday, April 27, 2014

Get it?

Mike from Traverse City asked if it’s ever correct to use the verb got.  Hypercorrectionists have a field day with this one. Some go so far as to say never use get or got, but as one caller pointed out, the three absolutely legitimate principal parts for that verb are get/got/gotten. At the same time, we have to acknowledge that this verb is rife with ambiguity.

Get is the present tense. I get your point. Add the words shall or will, and you’re dealing with the future: I will get groceries while I’m in town. Use the word get as a command, and you’re using the imperative form: Get real!

Got is the simple past tense: I got her point immediately. But it’s also an alternative past participle form: He hasn’t got a clue. We also use it to express necessity: You have got to get a job!  But it can express incredulity, too: You have got to be kidding!

Gotten is the past participle form: I have gotten goose bumps just listening to your experience. Alternatively, we could say, “I got goose bumps just listening to your experience.” “Have gotten” seems to be more common in American usage than in British usage. But the line between colloquial use and formal use is often less than boldly drawn.

It would not be Standard English to say, “You got to slow down” if you mean “You must slow down” or “You have got to slow down.” Another common use of “got” that is colloquial, not standard, is exemplified by the advertising slogan, “Got milk?” Formal use would be “Do you have milk?” or “Have you got milk?” Equally common colloquial use is, “Hey, got a minute?” instead of “Do you have a minute” or “Have you got a minute?”

“I got drenched in the thunder storm” “is just fine. “I got a problem with that” is not. Then there’s a large, gray area. “I got to go to the show” is OK if you mean, “I had the opportunity to attend the show.”  But it’s wrong if you mean, “I must leave now in order to attend the show.”

Finally, some people object to the technically correct “You’ve got mail” as redundant, insisting that “You have mail” is sufficient. To some degree that’s defensible, but “You got mail” is not.

Available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

Nook edition

Listen to Mike’s program in real time every Tuesday morning, 9:10 - 10:00 a.m. EST, by going to and clicking on Listen Now. You’ll also find about a month’s worth of podcasts there under The Ron Jolly Show.


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