Wednesday, August 12, 2015

"G" is for get

"Get" is one of those all-purpose words that seems to fit everywhere except where it doesn't. Its original meaning has been lost over the centuries. According to Merriam Webster's online dictionary, "geta" came from Old Norse and meant "beget."  It was first used in this way about 800 years ago.  Since then, however, get has taken on a variety of meanings.

To name just a handful of everyday uses, get can mean receive, answer, understand, have, and pick up. In the advertisement for The Week (to the left), do you get the double or triple meanings of the word here? (Do you understand or see more than one meaning of the word?) Do you get The Week? (Do you subscribe to this magazine or receive the magazine?) Do you understand why so many important people and institutions read this magazine? Maybe there are other meanings I am missing.

Next, the verb get is used with a variety of particles or prepositions to take on other meanings. These verb combinations are called phrasal verbs. Examples of some common phrasal verbs are get up, get out, get with it, get over, get in, get off, or get around to.  These combo verbs can have more than one meaning, too. Keep your eyes and ears open for this short word with a multitude of meanings.

Finally, get can be used with the past participle form of a verb in a passive causative sense. Instead of saying I had my car washed yesterday, you can say I got my car washed yesterday. The meaning here is that you "caused" someone else to do the activity for you. In other words, your car was washed yesterday by someone else or by some thing, i.e., the car-wash machine. However, you need to be cautious in using "get" as a passive form because it can have a slightly different meaning than be + past participle.  For example, "He was sunburned" is not identical in meaning to "He got sunburned."  The first statement sounds like a neutral report or observation of the guy's state or condition. The second statement, on the other hand, implies that the guy was sunburned unexpectedly or unintentionally, perhaps through some unforeseen circumstance. Even though he used sunscreen, he got sunburned, not he was sunburned.

Advertisements with a combination of text and illustrations are always a fun resource for learning English. Written ads are usually very short on words and often play with the ones that have multiple meanings (polysemes).  Now get up and get going!

***Here's one more link re: activities to do with "get." This one is from Cambridge University Press. The higher level activity on this last pdf focuses especially on the use of passive described in my second to the last paragraph re: unexpected result.

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