The Verb To Get Can Sometimes Be Overused In Writing

avoid the verb to get

The verb to get is one of the most common words in English.

We use it all the time when we speak, but it’s sometimes better to find alternative verbs in writing.

Good writing is always about variety and finding the right words. But because this verb has so many meanings and functions, it’s easy to fall into the trap of overusing it.

You can’t write without it. However, if you are aware, you can very often find a better verb.

The verb to get has nearly 300 meanings

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, get has 289 meanings.

But most of them are when using the verb to get with phrasal verbs or set expressions and idioms.

When you look at the definitions of the verb by itself, the number reduces considerably.

According to the Longman dictionary, there are 30 pure meanings.

These include obtain, fetch, receive, understand, buy, bring, achieve, become and arrive.

Deciding when to use get or another verb is not only about variety. It is also a question of formality and register in your writing.

If you are writing an essay or thesis, you will write in a more formal style.

But for a short story or blog post, you might opt for a more informal tone.

In fiction writing, you could use an informal style for the dialogue, but less so for your narrative.

When you use to get in writing, it is generally informal. For a more formal style, you need to use a synonym.

 

When and how to replace get

The main reason to replace get is to avoid repetition.

You only need to use the find function in a word processor to see how many times you use, get, gets, got, gotten, or getting.

It was getting late when I got to the station. I got my ticket from the machine, but there was an announcement that the next train was delayed. Luckily, I could get a coffee from a vending machine. Then all I could do was get settled in the waiting room. The train finally got in at nearly midnight, so I didn’t get home until after two am.

If you see that it occurs too often, that’s when you should consider changing verbs.

The easiest way to replace it is to use a thesaurus or simply use your knowledge for a more appropriate word.

For example:

She’s getting a new car.
She’s buying a new car.

Unless there’s bad weather, I should get to you around 7 pm.
Unless there’s bad weather, I should arrive around 7 pm.

I got a salary increase last month.
I received a salary increase last month.

Can you get me a glass of water on your way back?
Can you fetch me a glass of water on your way back?

Once you make a habit of checking, it’s easy to find and change your vocabulary.

 

Mixing formality with get

Because get is usually an informal verb, you need to be careful not to use it when you are writing in a more formal style.

One of the most common issues is when you mix formality in a single sentence.

As soon as he got home, he prepared a quick dinner for himself. (Mixed)
As soon as he arrived home, he prepared a quick dinner for himself. (Formal)
As soon as he got home, he got a quick dinner ready for himself. (Informal)

More often, the problem of mixing is within a paragraph. That’s where you need to take the most care.

It’s the same for dialogue writing in fiction. If your character uses informal language, be careful not to change the tone to formal by using too many replacements for get.

 

Avoiding overuse

You will always use the verb get in any form of writing because it’s indispensable.

But too much of anything is always a bad thing. Yes, you can replace it with another verb, but sometimes you might need to rewrite a sentence to reduce the use.

Simple examples:

We got married in June.
Our wedding was in June.

They got their new passports yesterday.
Their new passports were delivered yesterday.

I think I’ll have to get a new job.
I think I’ll have to start looking for a new job.

There’s always another way to rewrite a sentence without changing the meaning.

 

Summary

There’s no way you can avoid using get in any form of writing.

Sometimes it is impossible to replace it.

You would always use, they are getting married, and not they are becoming married.

While you need to be attentive to its use, you can’t replace it all the time.

But you can think about your variety and consistency to help you improve your writing.

As long as you are analyzing your writing, you will find ways to make it more enjoyable and readable.

Yes, there are lots of facets to writing, and this is only one of them.

But I’m sure you’ll GET there.

 

Related reading: Double Negatives In Writing Are Not Always A Mistake

Derek Haines

A Cambridge CELTA English teacher and author with a passion for writing and all forms of publishing. My days are spent writing and blogging, as well as testing and taming new technology.

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2 thoughts on “The Verb To Get Can Sometimes Be Overused In Writing

  • Avatar for Lindsey Russell
    April 16, 2022 at 12:32 am
    Permalink

    You do realize you’ve just got me to get a 140,000 doc up on screen and gotten ‘find’ to search for ‘get’? Have you any idea how hard it it to keep track of all those pesky words? I have a list of ‘pesky words (that, but, had been, to be etc) to check in second draft but get (and it’s chums) aren’t on it. So now I’ve got to go and get a pen and add get to my get rid list.
    Joking aside there are 276 – and as I tend to write more dialogue than narrative I’m hoping that isn’t too bad for a first draft.
    Thanks for highlighting this word – until you pointed it out it hadn’t registered how easy it is to overuse.

    Reply
    • Avatar for Derek Haines
      April 16, 2022 at 9:35 am
      Permalink

      Happy to hear it got you thinking, Lindsey. You can’t get rid of them all. But you can get a few if you hunt.

      Reply

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