Back in grammar, one of the many rules we were given was to always avoid "get," "got," or "gotten" due to their ambiguity and tendency toward poor grammar as in:

What happened to your arm? It got broke.

rather than

What happened to you arm? It was broken.


I got a ticket.

rather than

I have a ticket. or I purchased a ticket.

Is there still a respectable place for this abundantly overused verb (such as the passive mood, which, while generally to be avoided, can be used to convey an otherwise unobtainable feel in phrase)? Or is it ever condemned to literal taboo?

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    That's... a lot of peeving, in my humble opinion. "Bad", "poor grammar", "abundantly overused"... and some completely uncalled-for passive-voice bashing to round it up. ಠ_ಠ – RegDwigнt Mar 27 '11 at 0:42
  • fwiw, "it was broken" is no less ambiguous than "it got broken". – tenfour Mar 27 '11 at 1:51
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    actually "it was broken" is more ambiguous than "it got broken" – Peter Shor Mar 27 '11 at 2:35
  • +1 for not calling it the "passive tense" -1 for calling it the "passive mood" and for saying "generally to be avoided" – nohat Mar 27 '11 at 5:50
  • It got broke sounds wrong, but that is not because it contains got. – Tsuyoshi Ito Aug 15 '11 at 1:07

Wow! The admonition "don't use got" has gotten a lot broader than I remember it being. When I was young, what overly-picky grammarians complained about was using "got" (or "have got") to mean "possess" rather than "acquire" or "become". This seems to have been a feature of colloquial American speech for quite a while

I've got a mule; her name is Sal.

15 miles on the Erie Canal.

(song from 1905) but it has often been regarded as an incorrect usage in American English.

Because of this, the grammar police now seem to discourage all uses of the word "get". There was a children's book I read to my daughter when she was young where the copy-editor seems to have replaced "wouldn't you like to get one" with "wouldn't you like to have one", which would be fine except (1) that particular use of the word "get" was perfectly correct and (2) the line no longer rhymed with "pet one".

I would recommend (a) not using "got" to mean "possess" in formal speech and (b) otherwise ignoring the grammar police.

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  • See this site for an interesting description of how the American use of "got" for "possess" works. – Peter Shor Mar 27 '11 at 2:10
  • I also see from various postings on the internet that using "I've got" for "I possess" in Britain is common, and nobody on that side of the pond seems to be complaining about the grammar. Is it just the American grammar police who worry about this? – Peter Shor Mar 28 '11 at 12:50
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    My teachers (in the Netherlands) were quite adamant that "I have got" was the correct form, and they were very strict on the use of British English. But that was specifically "have got", not "got". And I'd still read "I got a ticket" as "I received a ticket", e.g. from a machine or a cop. – MSalters Mar 28 '11 at 14:54
  • Thanks for the clarification about British English. The grammar police in the U.S. give tickets for both "I have got" and "I got" used to mean "I possess." With google, I found people who discouraged this usage on several websites. – Peter Shor Mar 29 '11 at 23:07

Short Answer: No, "get" is not always bad.

Longer Answer: "get" and its derivatives have many meanings and uses.

The first example you give "I got broke" is not considered standard, but it's what lots of people say (that is, if your lawyer uses it, it'd be pretty weird unless your lawyer was from the deep South and they were talking about a kettle and not some law).

So it is an acceptable past passive in certain dialects/registers ('good ol' boy' talk), but not mainstream.

"I got a ticket." is mainstream, but not as formal sounding as "I bought a ticket."

Otherwise, 'get' for received, is certainly very standard and respectable.

Just for perspective, I have heard that in British English, 'gotten' actually sounds a bit more formal than 'got'.

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  • In my experience, "I got a ticket" is most commonly used when you have recently been issued a citation for speeding (or some other moving violation) by a police officer, not when you have purchased entry rights into a particular venue. :-) – Hellion Mar 27 '11 at 1:05
  • @Helion: yes..-lots- of meanings! – Mitch Mar 27 '11 at 1:52
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    Apparently, "gotten" is not a word in British English. – Peter Shor Mar 29 '11 at 23:10
  • @Peter: Is it at least recognizable/interpretable? How about 'shall' (which I keep contending is not a word in AmE)? – Mitch Mar 30 '11 at 1:15
  • They should recognize it as American for "got". – Peter Shor Mar 30 '11 at 1:50

The word "got" means received or suffered. In your examples, your suggested alternatives means different things entirely.

"I have a ticket" and "I purchased a ticket" do not mean the same thing as "I got a ticket". If you always had the ticket it, you have it now. But you didn't get it. If you "got a ticket", that means you received one.

If your arm "was broken" then you can't have broken it because it was already broken. If your arm "got broke", that means you suffered a break to your arm.

I don't see how any of your examples are ambiguous. The only issue is "got broke" should be "got broken". For example, "In the car accident, the driver's arm got broken."

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The pan was broken means there was intention of breaking pan . In " the pan got broken " there was not intention of breaking the pan.

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