I'm an American and my daughter is learning British English in school, so when I help her with her homework, I have to know the British rules.

She writes:

I have got a horse poster.

I understand that that is correct expression of the present tense in British English (even though I would write "I have a horse poster"). But now she wants to write in the past tense, so she writes:

For my birthday, I have got a horse poster.

I think this is incorrect even in British. I think she should write:

For my birthday, I got a horse poster.

But that sounds too American to me.

Which is the correct version?

5 Answers 5


The past tense locates a past event at a specific point in time. In your example, my birthday is clearly a past event at a specific point in time, and it’s that that makes the past tense, got, appropriate. I got a horse poster answers the question What did you get for your birthday?

If your daughter had been speaking on her actual birthday, she might have been asked What have you got for your birthday? and she might then have replied I have got a horse poster. Those two sentences use the perfect construction, used to refer to an event in the past (in this case in the very recent past) that has relevance at the time of speaking.


Actually, since you get a present for your birthday, it's correct to say "For my birthday I got a horse poster" in British English too.

But the past tense of the verb have got is had. Got is dropped.

Therefore, the correct version of the past tense is: "For my birthday, I had a horse poster."

However, this is a very clumsy sentence. Your version is the correct one. So, if the pupils are supposed to write the verb have got in the present and past forms, they haven't been given a good sentence. Check the question again.

  • I had to read this three times before I figured out that it was actually correct. I think the confusion is that in the sentence "For my birthday, I ..." the verb should be get and never have got or have. Nov 15, 2011 at 18:15
  • That's what I tried to say, apparently I used too many words unnecessarily. But I was confused with the sentence given in the question. Thanks for pointing it out.
    – Irene
    Nov 15, 2011 at 18:21
  • To avoid any misunderstanding, it might be as well to get the terminology straight. 'Had' is the past tense not of 'have got', but of 'have'. 'Have got' is a perfect construction made up of the present tense of 'have' and the past participle of 'get', and used in the way I show in my answer. It is true that in this context 'I had a horse poster' means much the same as 'I got a horse poster', but both are used differently from 'I have got a horse poster'. Nov 15, 2011 at 19:42
  • @Barrie: Suppose on Tuesday you say 'I have got a horse poster'. On Wednesday, when you're talking about Tuesday, and have lost the horse poster, would you say 'I had got a horse poster' or 'I had a horse poster'? I think this is what Irene means when she says 'had' is the past tense of 'have got'. Nov 15, 2011 at 21:56
  • @PeterShor: The most I think you can say is that 'I had got' is the past tense of 'I have got'. Perhaps that's what Irene meant. 'I had a horse poster' may be an alternative to 'I got a horse poster' in answer to the question 'What did you get?' but that doesn't make 'I had' the past tense of 'I have got'. Nov 15, 2011 at 22:03

Writing after the event, your daughter could say:

  • 'For my birthday I got (received) a horse poster and now I have got (possess or have) a horse poster',

but only on her birthday itself is it correct to say:

  • 'For my birthday I have got (received) a horse poster.'
  • How have everyone got this answer missed out? I mean I have got the right answers now.
    – Kris
    Nov 24, 2012 at 8:23

Simple answer: "I got a ..." is fine for spoken British English, but for writing, "I received a ..." is better.

We had a teacher in school who loathed the use of "get/got" in text; he insisted that there was always a more elegant and precise verb to use. When he was in a bad mood (i.e. always), those who broke his rule received a dose of Priscilla, his cane!

  • 1
    One of our English teachers put it more acceptably: "Never use got. Get another word." Nov 24, 2012 at 12:45
  • @EdwinAshworth That’s more school-marmy nonsense, like never splitting infinitives. I’ve never gotten the idea that it has any reason or respect behind it.
    – tchrist
    Nov 24, 2012 at 17:05
  • There's already been a discussion on the acceptability of got as a modal under Is “I wouldn’t have got left” grammatical?. Nov 24, 2012 at 20:02

The past tense of "have got" is of course "had" and not "had got".

Jane Brown (living today) has got three brothers.

Jane Austen (now dead) had six brothers and one sister.

Just as "have got" is grammatically the present perfect of the verb "got", "had got" is grammatically and used as the past perfect of the verb got.

I get dinner every night (means I prepare) I had already got dinner by the time he got home.

  • This is incorrect. The past tense of has is had, and thus the past tense of has got is had got.
    – tchrist
    Nov 24, 2012 at 17:03

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