English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Should I use got or was in the sentence below?

Many years thereafter, he ... promoted to [...]

This might be somewhat related to this question, but I'm not sure.


After reading some of the answers, I realize that I should have specified that I am writing a paragraph for a formal, business-related biography. If I would like to emphasize that the promotion was earned; would it be more natural to use got? I am asking, because people seem to perceive got as the less formal option, whereas, to me, was implies an "effortless" promotion.

To me, it becomes a debate of what I would like to emphasize:

"They promoted him because he deserved it." (Got)

"They promoted him because they had to." (Was)

share|improve this question
Related (and maybe duplicate): english.stackexchange.com/questions/3072/… – Stéphane Gimenez Oct 11 '12 at 12:18
up vote 4 down vote accepted

I prefer "was promoted" and "got a promotion"; but "got promoted" is acceptable, although as already mentioned it sounds much less formal.

share|improve this answer

The other answers are right that "got" sounds informal in this sense - and it doesn't necessarily carry the implication that he had to work for the promotion (it can even imply the reverse - there is a slight connotation that it happened to him without his involvement, compare "he got mugged").

If you want to emphasise that the promotion was deserved, you might say he earned a promotion, or he obtained a promotion, or possibly even he achieved a promotion. Or you could paraphrase to say something like he was awarded a well-deserved promotion.

share|improve this answer
+1, because the clearest way to say that the promotion was earned is to say that he earned a promotion. – John Bartholomew Mar 8 '11 at 14:19
Yes, "he earned a promotion" clearly shows that it was due to his work. As you say, "he got promoted" may subtly imply that it was imposed on him without his own action. – Wayne May 17 '11 at 15:37

In formal writing, use was.

For informal writing, you can also use got.

share|improve this answer
An exact phrase search for 'got promoted' on the NY Times website only gave 75 results v 9,750 for 'was promoted. My feeling is that less formal language isn't excluded from formal writing, it just needs to fit its designated niche and it stands to reason that such niches are not as likely to come up as much in formal writing. By the same token, formal uses are excluded from informal speech or writing. It just that the chances for a formal use in casual writing or casual speech just aren't as likely to come up. – Dan Apr 22 '11 at 18:34
In my comment above, I wrote, "formal uses are excluded from informal speech or writing." I meant the negative here - it should read, "... formal uses are not excluded from informal speech or writing". – Dan Apr 22 '11 at 19:09

Either is fine.

Many years thereafter, he was promoted to Lord High Poobah.

Many years thereafter, he got promoted to Lord High Poobah.

The only difference is that "got" may have a very vague implication that "he" did something to cause the promotion to happen.

Two new answers just came in, so let me address one more thing.

It is perfectly correct to ask "How does an employee get promoted around here?" This is the simplest and most direct way of asking that question, in fact. "How is an employee promoted around here?" sounds a little off.

So if one can "get promoted" I think it is fair to say that it's possible (and correct) to say that one "got promoted" after the fact has occurred.

share|improve this answer

This would be a colloquial use of the word, "got". Which one you use depends on your emphasis, and the formality of your writing. If you want to emphasize that then was was promoted, as opposed to before where he was not, you would say "he got promoted," or if your writing is more formal, but you want the same emphasis, you would say, "he became promoted."

However, if you are just saying that it happened sometime in the past as-a-matter-of-fact, it would just be, "he was promoted".

share|improve this answer
"He became promoted" doesn't work for me, because "promote" means the change of status, not the result of it. In the same way you can't say "he became lifted", or "he became knocked over", but you can use either of these with "was" or "got". – Colin Fine Mar 3 '11 at 17:59

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.