In my elementary education in 1960s Britain, I was sternly taught that use of the word "got" is strictly forbidden, on pain of punishment. We should never use "I've got a ball", it should always be "I have a ball".

Was that merely classism ("Only commoners use the word "got". It is wrong to sound like a commoner."), or are there deeper linguistic (and even philosophical) reasons behind this somewhat elitist-sounding rule?

For the record, my school was a village school in the middle of a deeply rural and thinly-populated area of the country, whose residents were mainly shepherds and farmers.

This question has been asked and answered before, but limited to the context of "have" against "have got". My question is wider, taking on the role of "get" as in "become".

"Oh no! The vampires are getting in!" (Wrong, said a teacher 50 years ago, you should write "The vampires are entering".)

Or "The water got in and ruined it" -- would you be expected to say "The water entered"?

"Get well soon!" and "I got better".

"Get real!"

What is the school of thought nowadays?

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    I do not think got was ever forbidden, with examples such as Kipling's "How the Camel Got His Hump". But it was often unnecessary and in such circumstances was discouraged when teaching written English. – Henry Jan 26 at 10:05
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    Does this answer your question? When to use "have" and "have got" – niamulbengali Jan 26 at 11:01
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    @niamulbengali Hmm ... partly. It only addresses the construct "have got" rather than all the other idiomatic uses of "got" and "get", particularly "get" as in the sense "become". "I got better." "Get well soon!" "Get real!" All these colloquialisms would have had me in permanent detention. – Prime Mover Jan 26 at 11:06
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    "Get" has been around since the 1200s. There was an expansion of use of "to get" from the early 19th century that broadened and added to its meaning of "to (in some way) possess". You teachers were taught by people who objected to this. Thus, in the final analysis, the threat was issued solely to improve you vocabulary and as futile resistance to this change. It also had a by-product, which was to attempt to render your speech more "middle-class". – Greybeard Jan 26 at 11:26
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    It might help to narrow the question down: it varies by country, region, and class; particular form of speech/writing; particular use of "get" ("get well soon" is more widely accepted than "you got mail"). It might also be useful to consider what kind of answer is required: do you want to know if self-appointed pedants object to it, what professional linguists and lexicographers say (i.e. if it's widely used), if it's used in the media or academia or business writing, if it's universally accepted. – Stuart F Jan 26 at 12:13

What to retain from the school of thought on the use of "get" today, for one of its main strains, is probably best inferred from this statement we find in the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary, 2005 edition.

"Get" is one of the most common words in English, but some people try to avoid it in formal writing.

Personally, I agree with this trend, and wouldn't consider it to become extreme if it were to spread to everyday speech; as far as it makes for more specificity in the language and introduces diversity without making the word "get" wrong the result seems to be enrichment.
Although the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary does include the meaning of "get" as "possess", "have," as a colloquial verbal form, I do agree with the old school (though not quite with its uninformative dogmatism): the shift to this type of meaning marks a departure from the general idea conferred by this word, this idea being that of passage from one point to another; the verb is generally an action verb; in this new acceptation relative to possession, the mind of the verb is wholly abstracted; from active it becomes stative, and moreover it makes for one more ambiguity in the language (It might take a second sometimes to understand really what one is saying when telling you something like "he's got a new electric car"). So, not considering that to say "he's got a car" instead of "he has a car" is wrong, since after all language is founded a lot on conventions, I find the shift in meaning out of the natural domain of relevance of the word not so desirable. Absence of inconsistency and undue complication in a language are important qualities which might not seem vital, so easy it is to treat them lightly, but which in the end might even be a matter of life and death for a language: one might reflect for instance on the disappearance of latin and its complex grammar, which, of all the main European languages, has left a trace only in German, a language that Americans, in particular, tend to find unmanageable.

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    Sometimes using got reduces ambiguity. If I say I was married in 1993, you don't know whether I had already been married in 1992, or whether I got married in 1993. – Peter Shor Jan 26 at 14:14
  • And in the U.S., he's got a car is unambiguous. You would say he's gotten a car if you meant he's acquired a car. – Peter Shor Jan 26 at 14:15
  • @PeterShor Oh! yes, I would not pretend that the word is otiose nor deny that the "possession" convention has some use, far from that. As far as my personal opinion goes, the concern is different. – LPH Jan 26 at 14:22
  • @PeterShor If the act of acquisition in the British usage is important to convey, then one would be able to use the construct "He's got himself a car" (which, however, would also imply that he himself was the one who went out and acquired it, rather than someone going out and getting it for him, as a present, perhaps). But you are correct -- US usage leaves less room for ambiguity than UK usage. – Prime Mover Jan 26 at 14:23
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    @Edwin: there are so many different dialects in the U.S. that I expect some of them don't use it. But when British speakers use got instead of gotten, sometimes it sounds wrong to me, so I suspect the vast majority of Americans I talk to use it. – Peter Shor Jan 26 at 18:51

This was something I was thinking about. When to use 'got', when not to use it. Thanks for your question as it taught me something. Here is my answer to backup your idea of formal and non-formal writing difference.

This website has so many sources and 'Encyclopedia Britannica' and 'Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy' are some of them.

When you search for 'got', almost none of the results from encyclopedias. No matter how much you skip pages.


When you search for 'have':


There are fair amount of examples from encyclopedias. Actually, that website mostly returns from encyclopedias.

Example: https://lengusa.com/search/standard

In a nutshell, I believe it is not as forbidden as you think but definitely not a first choice in formal writing.

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