How many meanings does the verb get have? Hmm. Quite a lot, right? I had to consult a dictionary to make sure I wasn’t forgetting any. A student on Facebook asked me about the many uses of this verb. Actually, first he asked about the different meanings and then he asked about usage. If the verb has so many meanings, do people actually use get so broadly?
Awareness of register is important when it comes to word choice. Yes, people do use get very frequently, but there are more formal alternatives that are appropriate for professional and academic situations. For example, when negotiating a pay raise, you wouldn’t say, “I want to get more money because I’ve got too much work to do these days.” That’s too direct and demanding. You might not even say, “I’d like to obtain more money for the amount work I now do.” That lacks finesse. More appropriate might be something like, “I’d like to receive greater compensation for the additional work I’ve taken on.”
Collocations and idiomatic language also play a role in word choice. Your friend can get the flu, but it’s just as conversational if not more so to say your friend came down with the flu. And while get might be less academic than a number of other verbs, it is completely appropriate to use get the impression in a more formal conversation: I got the impression that there were political motives behind the complaint.
How would you help students get a better handle on this common verb? Exposure outside the classroom will play a role, of course. But we could also increase the number of encounters with this verb and some of its meanings and collocations through short activities. Here’s a set of exercises to get you started: getting-it_handout.