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The Passive Voice with 'Get'

Everyday Grammar: The Passive Voice with 'Get'
The Passive Voice with 'Get'
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Have you ever gotten invited to a wedding? If so, who got married -- or will get married? Where was the wedding and did you have fun? I went to two weddings last year – one in New York and one in Connecticut. Getting dressed up can be a lot of fun, at times.

In spoken English, the verb get sometimes replaces the verb be in passive sentences. We call this the “get-passive” and you just heard me use it several times as I talked about weddings.

Use of the get-passive is considered conversational. But it is sometimes the better choice, even in written English. It can provide a clearer meaning.

And I am getting excited about today’s program. So let’s get started!

Passive voice

First, here’s a quick refresher on active and passive voice.

In an active sentence, the subject performs the action of the verb. The object receives it. Take the sentence, “I broke my favorite cup.” The subject is I and the object is my favorite cup.

In a passive sentence, the subject receives the action of the verb. So, in the standard be-passive, the sentence becomes, “My favorite cup was broken.” But, in the get-passive, the verb get replaces be. It becomes, “My favorite cup got broken.”

The get-passive has two structures: get + adjective and get + past participle.

For both structures, the verb tense of get changes based on whether you're talking about the present, past or future.

Let’s first talk about get + adjective.

Food can get cold, get hot or get warm. Some foods (like bread) get hard in the microwave. These are all examples of get + adjective.
Food can get cold, get hot or get warm. Some foods (like bread) get hard in the microwave. These are all examples of get + adjective.

Get + adjective

The verb get can be followed by some adjectives to express the idea of change or becoming something. We use this structure for people and things. We can talk about the weather getting hot or getting cold, for instance. A person can also get dressed up, get nervous, get hungry, get rich or get sick.

Here’s an example with the adjective hungry:

What time are we meeting for lunch? I am getting hungry.

Notice the use of get in the present continuous verb tense.

Get + hungry is such a fixed English collocation that it sounds unnatural any other way. Saying, “I am becoming hungry,” for instance, sounds so unnatural that the listener might be unsure of its meaning.

Get + past participle

Get can also be followed by the past participle – the form of a verb that usually ends in -ed or -en.

The verb get expresses action so, for this structure, we use it with action verbs. Action verbs express physical or mental action. They include such verbs as break, eat, choose and marry.

Listen to an example:

His brother got married last year.

Married is the past participle of marry.

And, you remember this one from earlier:

My favorite cup got broken.

Broken is the past participle of break.

For the get-passive, we do not use stative verbs, such as know, believe, say and understand. You cannot, for example, say, “The speaker will get understood.”

So, the get-passive is used with action verbs. But, the be-passive can be used with action and stative verbs.

However, depending on what is said, the get-passive can offer clarity between an action and a state. Take the sentence, “His brother was married last year.” Does the speaker mean his brother’s wedding happened last year? Or that his brother had a spouse last year, but does not now?

Computers and computer servers can get hacked -- an example of get + past participle.
Computers and computer servers can get hacked -- an example of get + past participle.

Desirable or negative

So, the get-passive can help bring attention to specific details about a person or action. For that reason, we often use it to talk about something either desirable, unexpected or negative.

Here is another example of a desirable event:

Vanessa got promoted to program director!

We also use it to talk about things that are negative or unexpected, as in this:

Please be careful. You don’t want to get hit by a car.

And, of course, this next thing is both undesirable and unexpected:

The company’s server got hacked last week.

But, sometimes, the get-passive serves none of these purposes. Sometimes, we simply use it to express everyday things in a conversational way. For instance, someone might ask:

What time does the mail get delivered?

Common expressions

And lastly, the get-passive in used in some expressions, like some you already heard – get married, for example – plus others, like get lost, get done, get ready and get dressed. Some are idiomatic while others are simply collocations. But they are so fixed in English that to say them another way would be terribly hard on the ears.

Whew! I’m getting winded. I had better stop here. Remember to leave a comment on our website. We want to hear about that wedding you got invited to!

I’m Alice Bryant.

Alice Bryant wrote this story for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.


Words in This Story

dress upv. to put on or wear formal clothing

conversationaladj. relating to or suggesting informal talk

collocationn. use of certain words together

spousen. a husband or wife

promotev. to change the rank or position of someone to a higher or more important one

hackv. to secretly get access to the files on a computer or network in order to get information or cause damage

idiomatic n. relating to expressions that cannot be understood from the meanings of its separate words but has a meaning of its own



Now, you try it! Choose one or both of the exercises below to practice the get-passive. Write your responses in the comments section.

  1. In a few sentences, tell us about a wedding you got invited to. Who got married -- or will get married? Where was the wedding? Did you enjoy it? Did you get dressed up? Use two or three examples of the get-passive. You can use get + past participle and get + adjective.
  2. In a few sentences, tell us about some other event or happening. Use two or three examples of get + adjective. Some possible adjectives include: tall, sick, better, worse, lost, old, thirsty, hungry, nervous, sleepy, hot, warm, cold, dark, light and late.

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