Getting to Grips with Get

Getting to Grips with Get

It's only a small word, but 'get' has the power to drive many English learners into a state of panic, and conclude it's something better avoided. This is particularly the case with speakers of Romance languages like Spanish, who find it far easier to use a formal Latinate word with the same meaning, than risk the ambiguous and confusing little alternative. But 'get' is actually a fantastic little friend, and one of the most common verbs in spoken English. It just needs a bit of explaining and practice to become one of those tools you realise makes English a lot easier, both to understand and for expressing yourself. So, before we get into explanations, let's first look at what makes 'get' a dirty word for learners.
    1. 'Get' is an irregular verb. (Aargh! The horrible three columns we had to memorize at school!) 2. So 'got' is part of a two-word verb, 'have got' like in "I've got two brothers" and now we're saying it's also the past of 'get'? Oh no! 3. 'Get' has so many meanings. How can I remember them all to use it?
Okay, let's look at those possible problems, one by one. 1. It's true that you need to know the form of a verb to use it. Here it's just one verb, so we can forget about our long, old, irregular verb list. If you like American English, it goes 'get - got - gotten' just like 'forget - forgot - forgotten'. British English doesn't use 'gotten' though, so it's just 'get - got - got'. A similar verb is 'shoot - shot - shot'. "JFK was the US president, until he got shot." To remember the form best, think of a song lyric with the word in it, or look for examples in Google, using a search like, "the best thing I got for my birthday". 2. There are just two forms: 'have got', which is simply 'have' used informally in the present tense, and 'got' the past of 'get'. It can be confusing when we see 'have + got' because the present perfect of 'get' is also 'have got'. Let's look at an example:
    a) "I'm never lonely. Fortunately, I've got John, who's always good company." b) "I've got John this sweater for his birthday. I hope he likes it."
As we can see from the contexts, in a) 'have got' is simply "I have John" and stands as a complete sentence, but in b) 'have got' is followed by 'John this sweater' meaning 'obtained' or 'bought'. Here we could change the tense: "I will get John a sweater tomorrow." / "I got John that sweater for his birthday last year." 3. Ok, this is a question of practice. If we don't want to memorize a long list of 'get' meanings, then try to apply them (looking up and down the list) in the middle of a conversation, how do we start using them? Of course it's important to know what a word means, but with a versatile word like 'get' it's best to learn the meanings in context, and focus on the most common uses which you will notice more frequently. So let's get started! Perhaps the best way to start with 'get' is by looking at its use for expressing transition. Look at these common examples:
    get on / get off: a bus, plane, boat, bike, horse get in / get out of: a car, taxi, bath, bed get dark get hungry/thirsty get angry/annoyed get cold/hot get tired/bored/excited get better/worse
We often hear this use of 'get' with '-ing': "I'm just getting on the bus." (someone explaining they can't continue to talk on their phone) "I slipped getting out of the bath." (someone explaining why they have a cut on their head) "Come on. It's getting dark." (someone who thinks it's a good time to leave the beach) "I'm getting hungry." (someone who is thinking about their next meal) "Can't you see? He's getting angry." (someone warning a friend to stop annoying someone) "It's getting cold in here." (someone who wants the heating turning on) "I'm getting tired." (someone who is thinking of going to bed) "It's still difficult, but I'm getting better." (someone who's only had a few driving lessons)

Do the exercise below to practise this use of 'get':

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