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According to my Longman dictionary, gain experience and get experience seem to mean the same:

gain/get experience: The programme enables pupils to gain some experience of the world of work.

But I have also found gather experience and acquire experience (source):

  • We now have to gather experience.

  • These projects will set their imagination in motion, and will help them acquire useful experience.

How do these versions with gain, get, acquire and gather differ? I am also interested if they mean the same but sound slightly different to native speakers.

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3 Answers

Gain adds to get the notion of something profitable or desirable (which is why we can get sick, but we don't gain sickness.) So, saying that an internship will help you gain experience implies that the experience you get might be useful down the road, such as on a resumé for a future job.

Using gather or acquire in conjunction with experience seems more suitable for corporate applications than personal endeavors. In other words, I can imagine a manager saying something like, “We need to acquire more experience in database applications before we put in a bid for projects like that.” However, if someone is talking about personal experience, (as in “I want to go to a third world country before starting college; I think I would gain some valuable experience”), then I wouldn't recommend substituting gather or acquire in that context.

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acquire and get are a formal and an informal version of the word for obtaining some specific amount of experience - the amount that makes a difference between "inexperienced" and "experienced". You don't get experience as a shopkeeper over one day of work, you get it after at least a couple weeks.

gain and gather are passive (you do your work and experience comes by itself) and active (you seek out opportunities to gain more experience) of the process.

You gain some experience over a day of work putting plaster on the walls. You get the experience of skilled plasterer over the course of three months. But you will gather the experience of a builder only if you quit plastering and seek out other occupations by changing specializations and getting experience in each of them - learn carpentry, masonry, basics of technical drawing reading, and a bunch of others that comprise the broad definition of a builder.

The borders aren't firmly defined, and people will often "get a little experience" (gain), or "gather experiences of others" (poll), and generally all these can be used more or less interchangeably - what I outlined is just a kind of "hunch" where which fits.

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To me, they all mean the same thing. All that's different is the style and level of pretension.

I'd say "The program gives pupils some experience of the world of work": no pretension.

The next sentence comes from "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may // Old time she is a flying". Just a metaphor.

I'd say "We need experience": no pretension.

"Acquire" is three syllables long, the most pretentious option, and related to the notions of language acquisition (an involuntary process in young children) and business predation (one business buying another).

I'd say "These projects will set their imagination in motion, and will give them useful experience": no pretension.

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