I do know what "as good as it gets" means (in my language, we say "it will not get any better").

However, I do not understand the grammar here:
Firstly, does the "get" mean a change of state here?
Secondly, why the present tense? It can get better in the future, can't it?

Could I say "as stupid as he gets?" What would that mean?

EDIT: I have found this one: I was expecting there to be more people at this dance party, and I was hoping there would be more nice ladies/gentlemen for me to meet. Is this as good as it WILL get?
If this is a permanent concept, why that person use a future tense?

  • Title Drop: Melvin says "What if this is as good as it gets?" in a psychiatrist's waiting room. tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Film/… -- It's a TV trope!
    – Kris
    Commented Apr 8, 2013 at 6:05
  • gets = becomes "3 reach or cause to reach a specified state or condition" oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/get
    – Kris
    Commented Apr 8, 2013 at 6:14
  • kris: I know, that is the change of state. But still, it is present tense - "as good as it becomes" and it does not make much sense to me. How it can be already "that good" if it just becomes?
    – John V
    Commented Apr 8, 2013 at 6:19
  • "As good as it will get" is specifically NOT permanent. The speaker is wondering if things will change. "Will it get better?" Now go back to the absolute form: "as bad as it gets" is another example of reference to the theoretical absolute: the worst that something can ever be. "As anything as it gets" refers to the theoretical absolute state. Again, if you personalize it, it changes: "as stupid as he gets" does not mean the stupidest he could ever be; it means "the stupidest we know him ever to have been," but it doesn't preclude him being more stupid at some point. Commented Apr 8, 2013 at 8:32
  • The difference between the personal and the impersonal is crucial in the way this phrase is understood. Commented Apr 8, 2013 at 8:33

2 Answers 2


When the context is absolute ("as good as," meaning "the best"), then the present tense is used to indicate permanence. "The best" is permanent because it is never better or worse; it always is what it is. There is no future or past tense for an absolute condition, because an absolute condition is considered not to change.

So your confusion comes from this: You are thinking of some thing or some object as "becoming" something, but the structure of the phrase does not refer to any particular thing: it refers to the absolute state. The absolute state of "bestness" is a concept that never changes, so it is referred to in the present tense.

Here are two more ways of looking at it: 1. You were trying to correlate "get" with "become," and that has some validity, but it's hard to see the correlation when you just correlate the present tenses. Try taking your translation ("it will not get any better") and put "become" in there, and that should make sense to you ("it will not become any better"). 2. Consider that there could be another word in the phrase "as good as it gets". It could say "as good as it ever gets." Ever is implied; we don't need it, but if you put it back in, doesn't that make more sense to you?

  • Thank you, but how come "as good as" means best? If I say "at math, I am as good as my brother", other people still can be better, right? And if it is a current state (permanent), why use "get" which refers to changes of state, why not just "is"?
    – John V
    Commented Apr 8, 2013 at 8:02
  • 1
    I might have got it - could I understand it as "as good as it can ever be"? Meaning the best because it cannot be better
    – John V
    Commented Apr 8, 2013 at 8:10
  • Words have multiple meanings. "Get" does not refer only to changes of state. This just happens to be one of the ways we use this word. "As good as" normally is comparative, but the entire phrase is internally reflexive; when you complete it impersonally ("IT gets," rather than "my brother," which is personal), it becomes an absolute, not a comparative. And yes, "as good as it can ever be" is exactly right. Commented Apr 8, 2013 at 8:26
  • Thanks. Now I only wonder why not "as good as it can be". The "get" still implies a change, transition to me.
    – John V
    Commented Apr 8, 2013 at 8:38
  • You're right that "get" does imply "obtain" and thus a transition. So if you see it as "the maximal state it can ever achieve or obtain," then you're on track. You just have to accept that "as good as it gets" (or as anything as it gets) is common and well-known. As with many phrases in English, it may not be obvious at first, because it became the way it is through some sort of evolution. Now that it has evolved, it works in this way, and you need to learn to accept it, because if you don't, you simply will be missing an understanding that would be commonly expected of a fluent speaker. Commented Apr 9, 2013 at 23:18

It’s present tense because the present tense is used to make statements about what is always the case. This is an impersonal use of gets, which cannot be transferred to other grammatical persons. The construction doesn’t work with becomes because the verb become describes a process, whereas gets, at least in this context, describes a state which has been arrived at.

There’s a similar impersonal use in He’s as tough as they come, in which come is also in the present tense, and in which they has an indeterminate reference.

  • thank you, unfortunately I am not that experienced English speaker to understand "impersonal use" etc. I only know that for changing conditions, I can use "it gets red, he got angry" etc.
    – John V
    Commented Apr 8, 2013 at 7:13
  • An impersonal verb is one that has an unspecified subject. A good example is It’s raining, where it has no real reference but is used just to give the clause a subject. That is not the case with He got angry, because he refers to an actual person. It is also probably not the case with It gets red. Commented Apr 8, 2013 at 7:18
  • Thank you again! I still cannot translate that to a meaningful sentence, would it be possible to re-phrase that for the sake of an example? Is it the regular use of "as..as" (maybe it is special here too, I do not know).
    – John V
    Commented Apr 8, 2013 at 7:26

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