I'm currently working on an application for a summer school and would like to say:

When I heard that understanding X required something called Y, I immediately bought a book on this topic, only to later become hooked by Y itself.

(Both X and Y are placeholders for scientific fields)

Question 1: Is this too informal?

Moreover, I'm starting to wonder in how far the verb and the preposition matter here: Most dictionaries seem to suggest get hooked on something. but I went for the above combination of verb and preposition because:

  1. In formal situations, I subconsciously tend to avoid get in favor of become. (This answer here seems to agree with this choice.)
  2. For me, the preposition "on" somewhat implies excessiveness or even has a connotation of uncontrollable drug or substance abuse, neither of which is the meaning I'm trying to capture here of course.

But, as usual, the more one ponders the words, the more one starts to question their meaning… So I'd like to add some follow-up questions:

Question 2: Is it actually possible or common to say become hooked by something. in the first place? Mr Lister has pointed out in the comments that hooked by can have a totally different meaning, though a quick Google search suggests that this only seems to be the case for get hooked by. In contrast, become hooked by – despite the fact that it produces only a few thousand results (and that it can't compete with the get variant on Google Ngram) – seems to be used exclusively in a non-drug context and with pretty much precisely the meaning I'm intending. Example:

I first read the paper as a final-year undergraduate student; I had become hooked by the study of behaviour and particularly fascinated by the evolution of animal signals.

-- Candy Rowe: Receiver psychology: a receiver's perspective. In: Animal Behaviour, Volume 85, Issue 3, March 2013, Pages 517-523 (link containing quote)

Example 2:

But traveling great distances is not uncommon for competitors who have become hooked by a sport that most people see only when the Winter Olympics roll around every four years. (source)

Question 3: Does get/become hooked on indeed imply excessiveness?

I apologize for asking three questions at once. I couldn't quite disentangle them to post three separate questions.

Finally, I'd very much appreciate suggestions in the comments for an alternative, formal expression for become hooked by, should the answers to the above questions mandate one.

  • I suggest neither that nor anything like it happened, however many books you bought. If you had really heard that understanding X required Y you might well have bought a book on that topic but did you, or not? Apr 13, 2018 at 21:13
  • 1
    @Robbie I'm afraid I can't follow?
    – balu
    Apr 15, 2018 at 2:36
  • How is that surprising. “When I heard understanding X required Y, I bought a book on the topic, only to become hooked by Y itself” contains several problems, none to do with formality. When you wonder how far verb and preposition matter, can you define the limits? Most dictionaries suggest “get hooked on” as that’s the usual form. How did your subconsciously tending to avoid “get” in favour of” become” matter, please? When for you, the preposition "on" implies excessiveness or any connotation of abuse, what exactly are you trying to capture here, please? Apr 15, 2018 at 20:16

1 Answer 1


Even Oxford dictionary seems to agree that hooked in that context is woefully informal, even slangy. I'm sure Urban Dictionary had a field day with it. Your intent seems to be striving for some formality with the application, and I expect that you're hoping to be accepted based on that. So I would suggest something along these lines:

When I heard that understanding X required something called Y, I immediately bought a book on this mysterious topic, only to find Y itself equally [or more] interesting.

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    Hi Bread, thanks for your answer. Oxford dictionary is basically talking about "hooked" in the context of drugs and addiction and I was aware that, in this context, "hooked" is rather informal. However, in my question I was asking whether "hooked" could also be used in different contexts with a slightly different (and less informal) connotation. Judging from what you've wrote, I suppose the answer you'd give is "no" but I'm still surprised by how "hooked" made it into some scientific article. Anyway, I ended up going with your suggestion to pick a different expression. Thanks again!
    – balu
    Apr 15, 2018 at 2:50
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    @balu Thank you. It is a good question, and I can't dispute the fact that hooked is perfectly correct -- technically. In informal speech or writing, no one would ever blink an eye at it. But for the kind of writing where your intent is to persuade someone in some position of authority, who has the power to give you the thing that you're asking them for, I always recommend avoiding words that may carry ambiguous meanings or other baggage such as having a history of subjection to use for double-entendres, slang, or euphemisms. Hooked does fall into that category.
    – Bread
    Apr 15, 2018 at 2:54

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