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)


6 Answers 6


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

  • Exactly, "got promoted" is less formal and would be spoken and not written.
    – Lambie
    Jul 7, 2019 at 17:08

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.

  • 1
    +1, because the clearest way to say that the promotion was earned is to say that he earned a promotion. Mar 8, 2011 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, 2011 at 15:37

In formal writing, use was.

For informal writing, you can also use got.

  • 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, 2011 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, 2011 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.


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".

  • 6
    "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, 2011 at 17:59

As far as I know, "got" is used to refer to "acquire" or deserve something. However, when we use the verb "was", it means that the action occured in the past, so the phrase get to be used in the simple past, for e.g.: He was promoted.

  • Welcome to English Language & Usage! Can you quote some references to substantiate this answer? As it stands, we have no idea whether you've researched this thoroughly or are merely guessing. Oct 25, 2018 at 8:08

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