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Is the idiomatic expression 'get started' (as in "Let's get started") a passive construction?

Or is 'started' here an adjective?

EDIT

As John Lawler has suggested in his answer, let's not get carried away with "Let's". Think of the title "Let's get started" as merely one example construction incorporating 'get started', as clearly shown in the question itself by "as in".

Also, I think the real issue here is whether "get started" denotes the "come to be in a started state" as John Lawler says in his answer. If it does, I'm sure there's no way it is a passive construction. But does it?

I mean, to my non-native ears, "Let's get started" means "Let's start", which is proven by the fact that they are easily interchangeable in any context. So, if "get started" is equivalent to "start" in meaning, how come it means "come to be in a started state"?

  • It's an adverb. – Ricky Apr 13 '17 at 18:01
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    CDO merely lists 'get started' in this sense as a multi-word synonym of 'begin'. The get-passive is identical in form (the machine got started by the engineers when they arrived), but the usage in 'Let's get started' has no implication of an outside agency. 'Let's get going' is a close synonym. – Edwin Ashworth Apr 13 '17 at 18:14
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    @Ricky Can 'get' ever be followed by an adverb? *I got angrily. – JK2 Apr 14 '17 at 0:22
  • @EdwinAshworth I thought one of the reasons for using the passive voice was you wouldn't want to reveal the agent or you didn't know about the agent. – JK2 Apr 14 '17 at 0:26
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    There is quite a difference between not wishing to reveal an agent and there not being any agent. 'The machine got started' hides the engineers (or whoever), but 'Let's get started' just means 'Let's begin'. – Edwin Ashworth Apr 14 '17 at 9:08
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Let's leave out the Let's, shall we? It just adds another idiom to contend with.

Get started is a normal causative/inchoative use of get.
Since get can be the causative/inchoative of either be or have, we have two possibilities:

Be:

  • He got tired = He became tired = He came to be tired. (inchoative of be, intransitive)
  • I got him tired = I caused him to become tired. (causative of be, transitive)

Have:

  • He got a new car = He came to have a new car (inchoative of have, intransitive)
  • I got him a new car = I caused him to come to have a new car (causative of have, transitive)

In the case of get started, it's both be and have. Since get started means 'come to be in a started state', it works fine with be. But since that state in addition arrives at a state of 'having started', a Perfect construction, there is no contrast. Things often work out like this with idioms.

Oh, as for the original question, no, it's not a Passive; if anything, it's a Perfect, as noted. The confusable get Passive occurs when get means come to be, as in get married, get arrested, get drunk. This works best, as you note, with predicate adjectives derived from past participles of transitive verbs, where the difference between a true participle and a derived adjective is irrelevant. So call it an adjective if you like, but since you can't tell the difference in this example, calling it a Passive invokes a rule that is not obviously involved.


EDIT: There are a number of issues tied up with this question about the Passive.

First, let's dispose of the Imperative. Let's get started can certainly be an order, if uttered by the right person in the right circumstances. Even if not, it's clearly an impositive, with the speaker attempting to impose a course of action on the addressee(s). That's because of Let's, which always functions as an impositive, even if only a suggestion, and always includes both the speaker and the addressee in the invitation, for a joint action. This is one of the very few places where English categorically requires a first person plural inclusive reading of us.

Second, the confusing issue with get started is that both get and start are inchoatives.
That is, they both refer to the beginning of something -- an action or a state.
But in this case, not the same something. Get has wide scope, while start has narrow scope,
so what is to start is some joint task that is unbegun so far (say, making supper). In order to start that task -- in order to get started on that task, or to get going on that task, and eventually to get finished with that task -- it is necessary for someone to do something preparatory, like going into the kitchen, setting the table, going to the bakery, etc.

So get started means to do what is necessary in order to start the project. When one has gotten started (American pple of get), one has passed the boundary into the action or state, so one has started, and if the action is not punctual or the state not ephemeral, then one has entered into the event or the state that has begun.

This is not what I would call Passive. Given the vast ignorance of what 'Passive' means in English among the English-speaking, -learning, and -teaching communities, I hesitate to use the term Passive for anything that does not require an application of the Passive-formation rule to a verb phrase. And this doesn't. It does require a past participle, but that isn't the same as Passive.

One would only get a Passive reading of "get started" if one had used the causative -- therefore transitive -- sense of start, as in start the race. Then the race would have been started (by the unmentioned causers), and that's a Passive for sure. But not normally.

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    Thanks for your answer. Regarding your last paragraph, I've edited my question to pinpoint what I think is the real issue. Please review the EDIT and hopefully edit your answer or leave a comment to address that issue. – JK2 May 2 '17 at 4:53
  • @JK2: See edit above. – John Lawler May 4 '17 at 1:03
  • Thanks for the edit. Sorry that your technical analysis is just beyond me. So let me get this straight. I think I can say either I started this controversy or this controversy got started by me to basically mean the same thing. And do you still think that the latter is NOT a passive construction of the former? Or do you think that this is a different example of 'get started' from the one in the OP (even without "Let's")? – JK2 May 4 '17 at 5:44
  • With the verb start, yes, you can say both of those sentences, and they mean the same, and the second one is a get-Passive. Was started is also Passive. Aspectual predicates like start, begin, finish, end, continue, repeat, etc. have their own peculiar syntax, because they don't mean much -- just an elaboration or specification of the event described in their complement. So they behave more like gears than pistons -- just modulating some meaning instead of providing it. As for Passive, you haven't provided your criterion for what you mean by "Passive". – John Lawler May 4 '17 at 14:57
  • If this controversy got started by me means the same thing as I started this controversy, then I think it's safe to say that the former is a passive construction of the latter. And I think you would agree on this with me. So I'm asking if you think of 'get started' in the OP as something different. – JK2 May 5 '17 at 1:12
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+25

In the expression "Let's get started," started functions as a participial adjective.

an adjective that is a participle in origin and form, such as burned, cutting, engaged.

Consider the phrase

Let's get drunk.

Here, we use an adjective, drunk, to describe how we are going to get. It modifies "us," as we see when we remove the contraction:

Let us get drunk.

"Start" is a verb in this context, but "started" is being used as an adjective to describe "us." So we call it a participial adjective.

I would not describe this as a passive construction. Because Let us get started is an imperative statement, there is an implied subject.

You let us get started

This construction, with the implied subject, is a standard active voice construction. We can see how it would look in passive voice by swapping the subject and object:

We are allowed to get started by you.

But as it stands, the sentence is in an active voice, and started functions as a participle, or participial adjective.

  • Similarly: Let’s get ready. Let’s get high. Let’s get closer. Let’s get killed. Let's get naughty. Let's get down to business. Let’s get lost. Let’s get going. Let’s get out of here. Let’s get married. Let’s get together. But: Let’s get it started and Let’s get you home. – tchrist Apr 29 '17 at 18:01
  • Thanks for the edit. Your exhaust example is, I think, a different animal. Verbs like exhaust involves the meaning of a certain state of mind or body, so the construction 'get exhausted' can entail "come to be in an exhausted state" as well as the passive action of exhausting, entirely depending on context. On the other hand, I doubt that 'get started', contrary to what John Lawler seems to argue, can entail or even implicate "come to be in a started state", but it can only entail or implicate the passive action of starting, even though the "passive" part might not be apparent in context. – JK2 May 4 '17 at 6:08
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"Started" certainly looks like a passive participle. It's true it doesn't seem to have much of a passive meaning, but maybe it's subtle. To me, it seems even less like a perfect participle, so I don't think that is the explanation.

"Passives" are classified into two main types: stative and eventive

It seems that "passive" constructions in English can generally be divided into two types: "stative" passives and "eventive" passives. See the following ELL post: If gone in “has been gone” is an adjective, how do I know that dispatched in “has been dispatched” is a past participle?

  • The "eventive" passive is the one that is probably closer to the "core" idea that people have of what passive voice is. For any transitive verb, an eventive passive construction can be formed with a subject corresponding to what usually is the object of the transitive verb. The eventive passive construction, as the name implies, may refer to an event. An example is "The window was broken by vandals", which can be used to narrate the event of the window breaking.

  • The "stative" passive is less productive, and it's more controversial to classify it as actually being "passive" voice strictly speaking. It is used to refer to states, not events, as in the sentence "The window was broken" meaning "The window was in a broken state".

There seem to be different explanations about how eventive and stative passive constructions work in terms of part-of-speech categories. However, everyone I have read seems to agree that the participial word in a "stative" passive construction is an adjective.

Disagreement seems to be about whether it is correct to see eventive passives as "verbal" passives (in contrast to stative "adjectival" passives) or whether eventive passive participles are also best analyzed as a type of adjective.

There are some diagnostic tests that eventive passives always fail, but that stative passives and normal adjectives can at least sometimes pass. The diagnostics mainly seem to be related to gradability: eventive passives cannot be gradable, while stative passives and normal adjectives may. For concrete examples of these kinds of tests, see BillJ's answer to Is “running” a gerund or a participial adjective?; there is a quite similar distinction between different types of -ing participial words.

"Started" in "get started" doesn't look like an eventive passive

While "get started" has a generally eventive meaning, I don't think this is evidence that it includes an eventive passive construction because, as John Lawler says in his answer, it's usual for the verb "get" to contribute an inchoative meaning to a phrase that it is part of, even if the other part would have a stative meaning by itself. For example, "Let's get serious" has an eventive meaning even though "serious" is obviously a non-eventive adjective by itself.

I can't figure out any way to demonstrate that "started" is gradable in this context, so I can't use the gradability diagnostic to show that it is not an eventive passive.

However, there is possibly another test that can differentiate stative and eventive passives. “Started” in “get started” cannot be followed by a “by”-phrase, and a paper I found by Josef Fruehwald and Neil Myler about a construction that seems somewhat similar to me, the “done my homework” construction, seems to indicate that the inability to add a “by”-phrase is a diagnostic test for establishing that a construction is not an eventive passive (2.2 p. 10). (I’m not sure how reliable a diagnostic this is, or if any counterexamples exist.)

So it would have to be a stative passive (which are adjectival)

If the argument above establishes that it is not an eventive passive, it could still be called something like a “stative adjectival passive participle” (the term Fruehwald and Myler use to refer to “started” and analogous words in "be started my homework"-type sentences).

"Passive" and "adjective" are not necessarily mutually exclusive categories unless you narrowly define "passive" to exclude stative passive constructions, and narrowly define "adjective" to exclude passive participles in eventive passive constructions.

It's not a perfect

It doesn’t seem to have any connection to pefect constructions, either in sense or in grammar. The meaning of “get started” is evidently distinct from “have started,” since we can’t say “Let’s have started.” It also doesn’t behave grammatically like a perfect participle since it can be embedded in a surrounding perfect construction (I took this test from Fruehwald and Myler p. 7, which uses the same criterion to argue that “be done” is not a perfect construction):

  • *They have had started. (unacceptable because of successive perfects)
  • They have gotten started. (acceptable)

Sources:

I’m done my homework- Case assignment in a stative passive, by Josef Fruehwald & Neil Myler


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Causative, not passive?

"Let's get started" sounds like an ellipse of "Let's get [sth.] started", for example:

Let's get the session started.

The sentence still looks like a passive construction, but this is deceptive: it is not a passive.

It is NOT "we" that get started, but something, for instance a session, that gets or rather that we get started.

To disprove that we have a case of passive voice at hand, let's get the sentence modified: If we used the verb "be", the sentence would only make sense if we said:

The session was started.

Not:

*We were started.

This clearly makes no sense. "To get started" is not a passive voice.

In the same vein, 'let's get drunk' is not a case of passive, but a case of a causative use of the verb "get". Why? Because 'let's get drunk' actually means:

Let's get us/ourselves drunk.

And to prove this claim, we can change the the indirect object pronoun "us/ourselves" without altering the meaning of the verb in question:

Let's get Joe drunk!

  • @JK2 I was wondering whether my answer doesn't solve your question. – Ashwin Schumann May 4 '17 at 8:41

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