Getting the Hang of it

When teaching vocabulary, language teachers always encourage their students to use new words in a sentence rather than rely on dictionary definitions alone. That’s easy when a word is used in a precise, limited way—like sky, cat, or cook. But some words—often extremely common ones—are slippery little creatures that are at home in many different environments. 

Consider the 10 most commonly used verbs in the English language. They are: 

be
have
do
say
get
make
go
know
take
see 

These words are so familiar that they seem too simple to worry about. For one, all of them are short. As well, you know what they mean, and you already use them in sentences—lots of sentences, I suspect! But don’t be deceived by their seeming simplicity and familiarity. 

Let’s look at the verb to get. Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary offers more than 20 definitions of this versatile little word, along with its role in a large number of idiomatic expressions. I wouldn’t recommend trying to memorize these. That way lies confusion and frustration! A better approach, in my view, would be to listen for it as you go about your daily affairs. I guarantee that you’ll start hearing get everywhere you go. 

Beyond Get 1.0 

You probably know how to use get to mean obtain, receive, or gain. For instance, you might say that you’re getting a ride to the conference, or that you got an A in biology, or that you got the department’s approval for your thesis topic, or that you’re planning to get tickets to Hamilton (good luck—that could take a while!).  

To move beyond the basics, keep a list of expressions that feature our mercurial little word of the day. Let me help you get started

Get a job
Get hired
Get fired
Get a raise
Get a promotion
Get sick
Get better
Get ahead
Get lost
Get out of here
Get away with it
Get caught
Get over it
Get past it
Get drunk
Get a grip
Get with the program
Get on board
Get even
Get results
Get a life
Get it

If some of these expressions are new to you, by all means look them up—or send me a message at the end of this post, and I’ll be happy to explain their subtle and not-so-subtle meanings. 

Please also note that in some cases, get is a synonym for become. When you get drunk, you start out sober. You become drunker and drunker with each successive drink. The next day, you might tell a friend that you got drunk last night. What you mean is that you became drunker and drunker, and at some point you reached a degree of inebriation that qualified as drunk. 

Now you’re getting the hang of it, right?

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