3

To mean 'become + adjective', you sometimes have to say 'go + adjective' and sometimes 'get + adjective'. For instance,

He got angry.

not *'He went angry.'

He went crazy.

much more common than 'He got crazy.' But

He got furious.

not *'He went furious.'

ngram viewer: He went angry. He got angry. He went crazy. He got crazy. He went furious. He got furious.

Any reason for this, any rule, which would make it unnecessary – for the English learner, who does not have an instinct for this – to learn adjective by adjective which verb they collocate with?

Michael Swan's explanation in Practical English Usage, Oxford University Press, Second edition, Fourth impression, 1996, is not really satisfactory:

(page 129, n° 4 b changes of quality)

Go (and not usually get) is used before adjectives in a number of common expressions that refer to changes for the worse. People go mad/crazy/deaf/blind/grey/bald; […]. Note that we use get, not go, with old, tired and ill.

  • It's the same with He got upset, He got cross, where we never use the "spatial metaphor" versions He went upset, He went cross. But note that at least some people (incl. me) would draw a potential distinction between He got mad and He went mad in many contexts. Perhaps the rationale behind that would shed some light. – FumbleFingers Sep 29 '16 at 18:17
  • I'd have to think about it overnight but at first glance, well, you just gotta go crazy and learn a few of them. I think that changes-for-the-worse idea is worth pursuing.... – Lambie Sep 29 '16 at 18:29
  • There's also turned as in "He turned ugly" or "She turned mean" – barbecue Sep 29 '16 at 18:40
  • @barbecue: turned = go, or get? Doesn't solve the problem, only avoids it! – user58319 Sep 29 '16 at 18:55
  • @Lambie: getting angry or furious is also a change for the worse, and you sitll do not use 'go', don't you? – user58319 Sep 29 '16 at 18:58
1

I think the choice between 'go' and 'get' to collocate with an adjective obeys two criteria:

1) whether the adjective is gradable or extreme:

you go bananas, not * get bananas because you cannot be * very bananas, only completely bananas (extreme adjective)

whereas

you get angry, not * go angry, because you can be very angry (gradable adjective)…

but that's not enough, because why then would you

get furious, not * go furious, when you cannot be * very furious, only completely furious (extreme adjective)?

So it must also depend on something else:

2) whether the adjective expresses a quality you can have control of/over or not

you go bald because there's nothing you can do to prevent it; similarly, you go crazy/bananas because your anger becomes extreme whether you like it or not; it overwhelms you, you lose control

whereas

you get furious because you 'allow' your anger to become extreme; you remain in control.

To sum up:

if the adjective is gradable, get (get old/tired/ill because you can be very old/tired/ill);

if it is extreme, go, unless it describes something you can have control of/over, in which case you still use get.

Sorry! No grammar books to quote from, just a hunch. (Not that I haven't looked!)

  • 1
    I disagree with the majority of your premises. Recently I witnessed my cat enjoying a good roll around on the floor, and I thought it looked like a good stress release and I joined him. I made a controlled, conscious decision to get just slightly crazy. – cobaltduck Sep 29 '16 at 19:45
  • 2
    @cobaltduck - Unless you are being obtusely ironic, you just agreed that 'get crazy' works when it is voluntary. – AmI Sep 29 '16 at 19:59
  • 2
    Alas, as much as I wanted to go with this theory, I can't get in the mood. Get crazy isn't popular as a synonym for go crazy, but the Ngram viewer attests to it. And the theory doesn't explain why you can go pale and get pale, which process is generally beyond your control. And you can go very pale. Likely you go bananas because get bananas will confuse insanity with retrieving fruit. – deadrat Sep 29 '16 at 21:17
  • Also you can go slightly crazy. Pity, the theory was starting to appeal to me. Perhaps it's just one of those things you have to learn, like the gender of words in most european languages? – BoldBen Sep 29 '16 at 22:12
  • While there are doubtless exceptions to the rules of thumb suggested here, and in spite of no supporting references (I wouldn't really know where to start looking either), this seems a good attempt at an answer to me. – Edwin Ashworth Sep 29 '16 at 22:26

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.