The Indispensable ‘Get’
I’ve been amusing myself lately by eavesdropping on people, listening for the use of the word get. I’ve concluded that get is as necessary to English speakers as the verb to be.
The most common synonyms for the verb get are receive, obtain, and buy:
I get the daily paper. (receive)
Next month I will get my first raise in salary. (obtain)
He got a 45” television set at the auction. (bought)
In his sonnet “The World is Too Much With Us” Wordsworth uses get in the sense of “to accumulate wealth”:
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
The verb get has so many additional meanings that I wonder how ESL learners sort them all out.
For example, used with the preposition on, get can have at least four different meanings:
How are you getting on with your studies? (managing, progressing)
Sallie gets on with her mother-in-law. (has a good relationship)
At 93, Mr. Biggs is really getting on. (becoming older)
Stop obsessing about the past and get on with your life. (continue)
Here are a few more uses of get:
Don’t get so nervous when you have an interview. (become)
How do you get to Carnegie Hall? (reach, arrive at)
I can’t get used to your new hairdo. (become accustomed to)
So he mispronounced your name; get over it. (forget it, let it go).
Now that everyone is in town, let’s get together for dinner. (meet)
I know that losing your best friend is difficult, but you’ll get through it. (survive, overcome)
I want my neighbor to get rid of his vicious dog. (dispose of)
She’s trapped in a dead-end job and wants to get out. (escape)
We hope to get away this weekend. (travel, go somewhere else)
I’ve tried and tried to master algebra, but I just don’t get it. (understand)
Then there are the imperatives with get:
Get busy! Get a move on! (Hurry up.)
Get lost! (Stop bothering me and go away!)
And these two, which have different meanings according to the context:
Get out of here!
These expressions can mean “go away, leave my presence,” as in “Get out! I never want to see you again,” or “Get out of here! The dam is about to burst.” Or they can be slang expressions of disbelief: “You pay only $600 a month for an apartment in Manhattan? Get out of here!”
Listen for get in your own speech for a day. You may be surprised by how often you use it.
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