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Why is “to get” sometimes used where “to be” could be used?

Sometimes I hear people say things like this:

I just got robbed.

(Personally I would rather say 'I was robbed' or something.)

It seems correct to me, but is this a good style? And if so, in which cases is it possible to replace a word with get or got?


3 Answers 3


In American usage, got means became. Just as I just became robbed, while technically correct, is not used, I would not use I just got robbed, preferring was. In some cases became would work, and so, then, would got. (I just got married comes to mind.)

I can't speak for British English.

  • While I agree that it's bad (formal) style, it's used frequently. I imagine it's from AAVE.
    – wfaulk
    Aug 14, 2011 at 15:33
  • Thanks! One last question: What's the reason for the different word order with got and was? Why don't you say 'I just was robbed?'
    – user11952
    Aug 14, 2011 at 15:52
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    Can't agree that it comes from AAVE - I'm a native of North-East England and I'm sure the I just got robbed pattern would be overwhelmingly preferred in common usage. That said, I would certainly agree that I was just robbed would be the preferred formal wording
    – SteveM
    Aug 14, 2011 at 16:09
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    Umm, 'got' does not mean 'became'. Consider: "I got the impression that ..." While 'got' can mean to acquire, it more commonly means experienced or suffered. For example, "I got sick." "He's got the flu." Aug 14, 2011 at 22:12
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    @DavidSchwartz, got certainly has meanings other than became. It also means became. "I experienced sick" and "I suffered sick" don't make sense; "I became sick" does. Moreover, if someone is sick, and someone asks him "When did you get sick?", he'll indicate when the illness started: i.e., when he became sick.
    – msh210
    Aug 15, 2011 at 0:28

My personal impression is that formal use of got with past participles should be restricted to the case where the past participles can be considered as adjectives. For example,

I got married.
I got excited.

are fine, because "married woman" and "excited man" are reasonable expressions. However,

I got robbed.

should not be used in formal speech, because people don't generally talk about "robbed men." Also note that I was excited means something different from I got excited.

  • What does the fact that we don't talk about "robbed men" have to do with whether "I got robbed" should be used in formal speech? You can certainly say "I got the flu" and we don't talk about "flued men". "Got" in this case simply means experienced. "I got robbed" means I had the experience of being robbed. As dictionary.com puts it "Experience, suffer, or be afflicted with (something bad)". Aug 15, 2011 at 6:45
  • @David: My feeling is that got adjective and got noun are perfectly fine in formal speech, but got past-participle is not. However, past participles and adjectives are overlapping grammatical categories. In formal speech, for past participles, got works roughly the same way as am. You can say I am excited, I am embarrassed, and I am married, but not I am robbed. This isn't about meaning, it's about grammar. Aug 15, 2011 at 12:42
  • @David: dictionary.com agrees with me. "Usage note: For nearly 400 years, forms of get have been used with a following past participle to form the passive voice: She got engaged when she was 19. He won't get accepted with those grades. This use of get rather than of forms of to be in the passive is found today chiefly in speech and informal writing." Got used with a past participle is informal. Aug 15, 2011 at 12:50

Got is a word almost unnecessary, at least it was so represented in an old (title forgotten) dictionary of Correct English Usage (or similar). Consider a list of a day's events. "I got woken up so I got out of bed. I got dressed and got myself tidy, and I got my bed made. Then when I got downstairs I found younger brother had got my chair. For breakfast we got porridge, then that got followed by smoked haddock. Mum got the dishes done and we got ready to go to school. When we got there..." and on it went for a full column of eight-point print. Then it had the same "story" retold without using "got" once.

Generally "got" is weak, there being so many more specific possibles to be used.

"I got robbed" makes you, the subject, a passive recipient of the robbery, and begs the questions "by whom? of what?" etc.

"I was robbed" removes your passivity, and still allows for more detail as with "got".


A quick way to check... substitute either "became" or a synonym, or "received" or a synonym

E.g. I got a cold - I became a cold? I caught a cold? as against: I got cold - I became cold or I received cold?

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    What is the difference between "I got robbed" and "I was robbed"? They seem equally passive to me. Grammatically, "I was robbed" is actually in what is called the passive voice. And to me, "I became excited" sounds much weaker than "I got excited." I agree that "got" is currently overused, but that is no reason to do away with the word completely. Aug 15, 2011 at 1:51