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What is the difference in meaning between got and was given?

I understand that got is in the active voice, was given is in the passive voice, and that they are different verbs. But what is the difference when they mean received?

Also, does to get have a passive voice? Since it functions as the passive voice of to give, it doesn't make sense for it to have its own passive voice. I cannot think of any context that "was got" or "was gotten" aren't simply wrong.

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What is the difference in meaning between got and was given?

I understand that got is in the active voice, was given is in the passive voice, and that they are different verbs. But what is the difference when they mean received?

Was given is much more specific than got, since got doesn't mean "received" specifically, but rather "received or obtained". Consider these examples, where "got" could be replaced with "obtained", but not with "received" nor "was given":

  • I got the answer by subtracting A from B.
  • I got it for $5.
  • I got it at the supermarket.

Because of this, there are also cases where we can only use was given, because although got theoretically covers that semantic space, it is too vague to be used that way without clarification. For example:

  • I was given that m > n, and had to prove that m2 > n2.

Even in the narrower class of cases where got and received do both work, was given does not always work:

  • I got the idea from a book I once read.

And of course, the subject of was given sometimes denotes the item being transferred, rather than the recipient:

  • The book was given to her as a present.

Also, does to get have a passive voice? Since it functions as the passive voice of to give, it doesn't make sense for it to have its own passive voice. I cannot think of any context that "was got" or "was gotten" aren't simply wrong.

I don't buy into this premise that "it functions as the passive voice of to give"; it takes a direct object, ergo it's not functioning as a passive voice. The semantic role (theta role) of the subject of get is similar to that of the indirect object of give, but that doesn't mean that one verb functions as a form of the other. You might as well say that received functions as the past tense of get, and that having functions as the gerund-participle of possess, and . . . well, you get the idea. They're just separate verbs.

But to answer your question: yes, get has a passive voice, though it was never terribly common, and is much rarer now than it was a hundred years ago; see the Google Ngram Viewer results for "be gotten".

  • 1. Are you saying that got when meaning “received” always implies someone/thing gave (as in: “I got a gift for Christmas.”), and that got when meaning “obtained” does not always imply someone/thing gave (as in: I got the answer by subtracting A from B)? 2. I didn’t understand. What is it and why does its having an object mean it cannot function as a passive voice? 3. Interesting. What did “be gotten” mean? Could its usages be a misspelling of “begotten”? – Mr. Inquisitive Jan 4 '15 at 7:23
  • @Mr.Inquisitive: 1: No. For one thing, there's no such distinction; got never means "received" and never means "obtained", but rather, only ever means "received or obtained". 2. "It" is get. And let me turn this around on you: if you think that it "functions as passive voice", why don't you explain why you think so, and what you think that means? 3. It's the passive of get (in all transitive senses), and no, it's not a misspelling. You can look through google.com/search?q=%22be+gotten%22&tbm=bks to see various examples. – ruakh Jan 4 '15 at 8:21

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