When someone says "I got my car back" in an informal setting, does it mean (1) or (2)?

  1. I have got my car back. (Where "have" can be dropped in spoken English.)
  2. I got my car back. (As the past tense of "I get my car back".)

I do understand that they mean virtually the same thing, but (1) is in the present tense, whereas (2) the past tense. When you make it a question, the syntactic difference is clear:

  1. Have I got my car back?
  2. Did I get my car back?
  • 1
    As you say, they mean the same thing. So whether they meant (1) or (2) doesn't make a difference. The meaning is at some point prior to me saying this, I became once again in possession of my car.
    – Jim
    Oct 11, 2012 at 6:21
  • Jim, I'm actually asking about the syntactic, not semantic, nature of the sentence. Any thoughts?
    – JK2
    Oct 11, 2012 at 6:33
  • Related Is using the present perfect old-fashioned
    – user19148
    Oct 11, 2012 at 6:46
  • 1
    Related: "Have got" — verb form and tense. In fact I think "have got" deserves its own tag by now, so here it is.
    – RegDwigнt
    Oct 11, 2012 at 9:17

3 Answers 3


Since your two sentences mean almost exactly the same thing, I don't see why you need to distinguish them. But a slight variation might be more illuminating:

I got my car so I can give you a ride.

(I walked a mile-and-a-half home and drove my car here in order to give you a ride.)

I (have) got my car, so I can give you a ride.

(I just happen to have my car here, and I'll be happy to give you a ride.)

The answer is that the only way to distinguish these two sentences in informal American English is by context (or in this case, by hearing the very slight pause indicated by the comma).

  • Thanks, Peter. That makes sense. Context dictates the outcome.
    – JK2
    Oct 11, 2012 at 13:01
  • For more syntactic details, check my answer to the related question that RegDwight suggested. Oct 11, 2012 at 20:09

Questions of this kind have been asked before. I have got is a present perfect construction, while I got is the past tense of I get. British English maintains a difference in the use of the two forms. The present perfect is typically used to describe an event that began in the past and which has current relevance. The past tense, on the other hand, refers to an earlier event that happened at a particular time and which is now consigned to history. If I, as a speaker of British English, say I have got my car back I am describing the present state of affairs. If I say I got my car back I mean that it was returned to me at some point, and I would usually say when: last week, yesterday.

I understand that American English uses the past tense for both situations, but it will be preferable for a speaker of American English to offer any further elaboration that may be required.

  • Thanks, Barrie. One follow-up on your answer, though. You said that "I have got" is a perfect construction. But I thought that "I have got my car back" is closer in syntax and meaning to "I have my car back" than to "I have gotten my car back".
    – JK2
    Oct 11, 2012 at 8:10
  • British English doesn't use gotten in that way, and I have my car back is unusual. Oct 11, 2012 at 8:32
  • I would add that "I have got my car back" means that the speaker is now in posession of the car. "I got my car back", while not implying that the speaker doesn't now have posession of the car, doesn't (it may later have been sold, for example).
    – Matt
    Oct 11, 2012 at 10:46

I have got my car back — used in formal context.

I got my car back — used in informal context.

  • No, I don’t think so. I do not believe that if today I plan to get my car back, it suddenly becomes informal just because I tell you that I got my car back.
    – tchrist
    Nov 30, 2012 at 5:09

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