I was taught around the age of 10 to always avoid the word "got". I was told that it's always possible to rephrase a sentence so as to not use it. I followed this advice fairly unthinkingly, but now that I come to look at it, this isn't so universal.

I still think it's an ugly word and avoid it where I can, but is this a correct way to think? Is there any consensus on the word "got"?

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    Well there's more than one use of the word, and it depends on the context. "I got sick from some bad shrimp" when I'm telling my friend, "The patient became sick from contaminated shellfish" when writing a report to the health department.
    – John Feltz
    Jan 6, 2017 at 15:12
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    I suppose it's okay to tell 10-year-olds that they shouldn't use words like sh#t and f#ck, but condemning them to a lifelong aversion to something like got seems to me to be bordering on child abuse. Jan 6, 2017 at 15:27
  • @John; FumbleFingers Do you see no difference between 'I got/became…' sick or 'I got (a) sickness…'? Dec 26, 2022 at 21:55

5 Answers 5


It depends on the context. It can be casual, but it's the correct past tense of "to get."

I got sick.
I got a book for my birthday.
I got there in time.

Perfectly correct, if slightly casual. You could rewrite to "I became sick, I received a book, I arrived in time," but you'd start to come off as needlessly formal.

In response to a falling baseball:

I got it!

You could say "I have it!" or "I'll get it!" but on the field nobody cares.

I got no idea.

Slang. Comprehensible, but technically wrong; it should be "I have no idea."

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    I got an answer for you but this one looks pretty good. Jan 6, 2017 at 17:06

English is a development of Anglo Saxon and old Norse with many borrowings from Latin, mostly via Norman French, thanks to the Norman conquest of 1066. For a long time after the conquest, the nobility spoke French and the peasantry spoke Anglo Saxon. This is the reason our names for animals on the hoof are Saxon (cow, pig) and for animals on the plate are French (beef, pork).

For centuries after English became the language of the upper crust as well as the lower, a more "gentile" English was maintained as a form of class distinction. This is why polite English grammar had so many rules based on Latin grammar (can't split an infinitive, can't end a sentence with a proposition). Among those who want to distinguish themselves from the rough and uneducated classes, many of these pro-latinate prejudices remain.

However, in the 20th century there was a significant movement which condemned the latinate approach as pretentious and urged the use of plain Anglo Saxon words whenever possible. Thus George Orwell in Politics and the English Language (http://www.orwell.ru/library/essays/politics/english/e_polit/):

Bad writers, and especially scientific, political, and sociological writers, are nearly always haunted by the notion that Latin or Greek words are grander than Saxon ones, and unnecessary words like expedite, ameliorate, predict, extraneous, deracinated, clandestine, subaqueous, and hundreds of others constantly gain ground from their Anglo-Saxon numbers(1). The jargon peculiar to Marxist writing (hyena, hangman, cannibal, petty bourgeois, these gentry, lackey, flunkey, mad dog, White Guard, etc.) consists largely of words translated from Russian, German, or French; but the normal way of coining a new word is to use Latin or Greek root with the appropriate affix and, where necessary, the size formation. It is often easier to make up words of this kind (deregionalize, impermissible, extramarital, non-fragmentary and so forth) than to think up the English words that will cover one's meaning. The result, in general, is an increase in slovenliness and vagueness.

In his brief set of rules for writing good English (the best style guide out there, IMHO) Orwell also said:

Never use a long word where a short one will do.

In short, "got" is good plain English usage, and it is pretentious and elitist to use a longer word where "got" will do. Of course, there are lots of pretentious and elitist people in positions of authority and judgement, so you must decide when to stand for the good plain English of the common people and when to trim your sails to the wind that blows.

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    Pretentious? Please! The word "got" is simply abysmal, small, nasty, unrewarding, distasteful, limited, ugly, wrong, grating and most unappealing. To be subjected to its use is the equivalent of listening to someone scrap their nails down a blackboard. Good day to you sir! :-)
    – scott_f
    May 14, 2018 at 10:52

Not the word itself, no, but many of its modern uses, surely.

I got no idea

You have got to be kidding me

are fine examples of how never to use ‘got’.

‘I got no idea’ is hardly slang. it’s just a common mistake but still and only, a mistake. You might try to defend it with the plea that since the user can’t understand the difference, it can’t be a deliberate mistake and must therefor be no mistake at all, but would you?

'You have got to be kidding me' isn't correct; a fine example of how 'have' and 'got' and have got' confuse people.

'You have to be kidding me' is correct but yes, most people don't care.

I got it

I got sick

I got a book

I got there in time

have always been correct.

I got by until long after 10 on hearing alone and yes, ‘got’ frequently got my goat. It seemed ugly but why wasn’t obvious, until I found Fowler’s The King’s English. Even in 1908 that tome lamented how often ‘got’ was getting misused. Fowler quotes RG White: ‘… got, having been by custom poorly substituted for gat, so that we say He got away, instead of He gat away, many persons abbreviate gotten into got, saying He had got, for He had gotten.’ Is it surprising that after 100 years we get ‘He got’ from a further mutation of ‘He had got?'

‘I got the ball’ isn’t wrong; it just doesn’t mean ‘I have it’ but rather ‘I caught it.’ It often sounds clumsy but it isn’t wrong.

‘I’ve got the ball’ might be a mistake for ‘I have the ball’ or - although that’s now pretty-much universally heard as archaic - for ’I’ve gotten the ball’. Either way I think the best defence for ‘I’ve got the ball’ is as an idiomatic mistake, not a neutral development of the language, however natural…though let’s come back to that in another 100 years!

‘Have you got a clue?’ is not the same as ‘Do you have a clue?’ It’s at best unclear and if it really worked, it should mean ‘Have you found…’ not ‘Do you possess…’

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    You have got to be kidding me. "You have got to be kidding me," is well established popular idiom and any grammar that can't account for it is out of date. Language and usage march on. It is not "correct" to fail to keep up.
    – user16226
    Jan 22, 2017 at 14:15
  • Yes, I know 'You've got to be kidding me' is well-established popular idiom and that doesn't mean you or anyone else can explain the rules for its use to, say, a child or a foreigner. Of course 'You have got to be anything' is well-established popular idiom and while its intent is usually emphasis, its effect is usually also to expose the speaker's lack of interest in English. Is it true that because people do a thing, they should do it? I don't think it's rash to assume that hope of avoiding that trap was one of the reasons Ben was told to avoid the word 'got' altogether Jan 22, 2017 at 18:06
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    What people do is the only standard there is in English. We have no Academy. Inability to explain the mechanics of the universe is a fault of physics, not the universe. Inability to explain the mechanics of an idiomatic sentence is the fault of the grammar, not the sentence. All grammar's are faulty. None fully explain idiomatic usage.
    – user16226
    Jan 22, 2017 at 18:11
  • Thanks, Mark. So long as you recognise that there is a very simple rule which does explain 'You've got to be…', that's fine even by me. Jan 22, 2017 at 19:22

More Descriptive

Existing answers point out that "got" is acceptable English.

I'd like to point out that it's generally not interesting English.

I got sick.

Is fine.

I hurled my guts out.

Might be more interesting, if you're trying to get across how unpleasant an experience was for a character in your writing.

Whenever you're using "got" you have an opportunity to use a more descriptive word or phrase instead. Part of the art in writing is deciding when it's better to be brief, and when it's better to provide more detail and more emotion.


Got may be an overused word, but never ban any word from your vocabulary entirely.

Use it sparingly; favor the alternatives when they exist, but don't miss out on the expressions ("you have got to be kidding me").

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