Why English speakers love the word “get”.

The word get

The “word get” is the Swiss-army knife of all verbs, for many native English speakers. It’s a catch-all that can be used in so many situations that we don’t even realize how often we use it. Unfortunately, people learning English, don’t like this word as much as native speakers. In fact, many English learners avoid it.

For them, it makes no sense to use terms like “get to, get up, get down, get through, get over, get around, get about, get away with something or get someone to do something” when they can say arrive, reduce, suffer, recuperate, go around, travel, escape, or convince – all words which have a nice and neat one-to-one equivalent meaning to a word in their own language.

What’s the problem with avoiding expressions with “get”?

As usage of phrasal verbs is ubiquitous, not embracing them could result in blind spots in their communication. In addition to that, they may never get to the point where they use the same expressions as the native speakers with whom they have to communicate.

How to get the students to embrace terms which use the word “get”?

Well, it has to do with how they learn it and perhaps more importantly, why they don’t. In terms of what can impede learning, there are three things that can go wrong.

  • The student doesn’t get it.
  • The student can’t produce it.
  • The student doesn’t accept it.

When it comes to the word “get” in phrasal verbs and colloquial expressions, the trouble tends not to be in the understanding or the repeating of the term, but rather accepting the term. A thing that often happens in the world of language teaching is that students question the validity of things a native speaker would never think to even notice. Questions like:


Why aren’t Kansas and Arkansas* pronounced in a similar way? Why do some Brits pronounce Lieutenant *as “Leftenant”? Equally, we might ask a Spanish speaker how, “agua“*, the Spanish word for “water” is masculine in singular, feminine in plural but when used as a singular, requires a feminine adjective. Who knows?

Getting students comfy with, “get”

Helping students to understand and adopt the term “get” requires a two-pronged approach. The first has to do with selling the idea. Catch-alls exist in every language. In German, the verb “fahren”(transport one’s self and/or others with the use of a vehicle) or in Spanish, “tomar”(to ingest or obtain) . If they accept that they have words which work in the same way in their language, accepting “get” may not seem like such a stretch.

What does “get” actually mean?

What meaning binds all or most terms involving the word “get”? Get means “succeeding in or obtaining a situation where you and or others are…(the other part of the verb).”

  • get up = achieve or obtain the situation where you are up standing, elevated, or awake.
  • get him up = achieve or obtain the situation where he is up standing, elevated, or awake.
  • get over something = achieve or obtain a situation where one has recovered from an ailment, injury or extreme news.
  • get by = achieve or obtain a situation where one is past a difficulty or challenge.

And so on.

Hard to get

Frequently (but not always), there is an aspect of challenge involved.

Let’s take a look at this situation:

You have to go to the airport. You speak to a cab driver/taxi driver.

“Could you drive me to the airport?”


“How long will it take?”

“30 minutes.”

“I don’t have so much time. Can you get me there in 20? (Can you achieve a situation where we arrive to that airport in 20 minutes?)”

“Sure, but it’ll cost you.”

If they can “get” the above, then it’s just a matter of practice, so be sure to throw it in whenever you can. Often, students will adopt your manner of speaking, but if it doesn’t catch on, you can either use exercises which require the student to use phrasal verbs and other terms using the word “get” or you can ask them to write about something which requires them to use the same word again and again. This will force them to seek synonyms.

Well, now it’s time to get going. Good luck, and I’m sure that getting your students to use  “get” in its various ways will be no problem once you begin to use it often.