Using the verb ‘to get’ can be really tricky. It has so many different uses and meanings that it can seem daunting even to try. This post is going to deal with a really common way of using it that should really help you to form nice, natural phrases.
In other news, this is my first trilingual post. Did you get that? I said it’s trilingual! That’s right, this post is available in not one, not two, but three languages; English, Spanish and Catalan. Are you impressed? You should definitely be impressed. For information about how to use this fact to help you improve your reading skills, please visit my About page and look for ‘How to Use the Blog’.
Can we also take a moment to thank Carla for her wonderful translations? Have you done it? Out loud? Then let’s get on with the post…
When I said “Any questions?” at the end of the class, Xavi’s response wasn’t exactly what I had in mind. “What does ‘get’ mean?” isn’t really the kind of question you can answer when your next class starts in 10 minutes, or indeed 10 hours. Being the diligent teacher I am, however, I gave it my best shot and replied with the following:
“Where do all the odd socks go, Xavi?”
There are few things in life more annoying than having your question answered with another question, so I fully deserved the barely audible, mostly exhaled “Joder, teacher” that he replied with.
I hate to be the one to have to tell you this, Xavi. But I’m afraid some questions just aren’t meant to be asked:
“When’s the baby due?”
…when there’s even the tiniest sliver of doubt about whether the woman in question is pregnant.
“Are you sure? It’s just…”
…when she politely tells you she’s not. And…
“Teacher, teacher, what does ‘get’ mean?”
Perhaps I’m an idiot for even attempting to answer this one, let alone write a blog post about it, but I’m going to give it a try. This one’s for you, Xavi.
Before we begin, I want to let you know that today’s post is only going to cover one use of ‘get’. I’m a bit mad, but not clinically insane. This is, however, a really common use and one that not too many non-native speakers master. You guys can do it, though… if you follow carefully.
The Spanish language has a lot of vebrs that can be used reflexively. They’re the verbs that end with ‘se’ in the infinitive: vestirse, mojarse and cansarse to name just three.
To be very clear, using them reflexively means that the person or thing doing the action is the same person or thing receiving it. Ooof, that sounds brutal, but it’s really not. Have a look at the following two phrases and decide which one is reflexive:
You got it, right? You don’t need some guiri/gringo to tell you it’s the first one. I mean, come on, it’s your language…
In the first sentence, the subject ‘does it to itself’. In the second phrase, something else (the ice) ‘did it to another thing’ (the drink). We can describe a verb as being used ‘reflexively’ when the subject does the action to himself/herself/itself etc.
“Okay”, you may well be thinking to yourself, “But I came here to learn English not to have some puñetero Englishman explain my own language to me”. You do have a point… but I’m getting there…
When these verbs, vestirse, mojarse, cansarse etc, are used reflexively, we can often translate them using…
Let’s take one of those ‘se verbs’ (vestirse) and have a look at an example from Spanish:
First let’s check whether we’re using it reflexively in this sentence.
What? You expect me to do it for you? Do I have to do everything around here? Come on, look at it again. Am I doing the action ‘to myself’ or is someone else putting my clothes on for me? Am I a hopless child incapable of dressing myself? Right, then you have your answer…
PS I’m not a hopeless child incapable of dressing myself. Don’t listen to my girlfriend; she’s a liar.
Okay, so now we’ve passed the ‘is-it-reflexive’ test we can start figuring out how to say it in English. Many such phrases can be translated using the following structure:
So what’s our translation going to look like? Let’s go ahead and use our ‘get + past participle’ structure. The past participle of ‘to dress’ is ‘dressed’. We’re speaking in the present simpe tense, so we’ll conjugate the verb ‘to get’ accordingly and say something like this:
This is fun. Let’s try another one. How about this; ‘Me canso mucho cuando voy al gimnasio.’ Let’s choose the English adjective (you can call it a past participle if you prefer) most closely related to our Spanish verb ‘cansarse’: ’tired’.
Okay, my sentence is grammatically perfect but I have to confess it’s a complete lie. I never go to the gym. I’m not even sure where the gym is. I’m pretty sure going there involves some kind of physical exercise, but I can’t be sure. Anyway, let’s just focus on grammar. I’m good at grammar; people don’t laguh at me and call me names when I do grammar stuff…
Did you see the structure? There it was again:
¿Ya os habéis aburrido? ¿O queréis leer más?
We’re not even going to translate that one. It’s a genuine question.
Okay, okay, we’ll translate it. Of course you guys aren’t bored. You love grammar. You’re hanging on my every word. Probably…
This one’s in the present perfect (if in doubt, please see my wonderful post on the present perfect tense for Spanish speakers) so we’ll have to keep that in mind when we conjugate the verb ‘to get’. We’ll also need the English adjective that comes from ‘aburrirse’. In this case, it’ll be ‘bored’:
Well, bored or otherwise, it’s time for your homework. Nobody told you there’d be homework, did they? No te enfades… I mean…don’t get angry! I’m setting you homework out of love and a desire for you all to improve your English. I’ll even correct you. For free! So why not post your translations in the comments below and let me give them the SchwaEnglish seal of approval?
Ooof, bad joke. Sorry. Just before you go, though; a quick note. Working full time and managing this blog is a lot of work. I do it because I love languages and I want to share what I’ve learnt over the years. All I ask of you is a small favour. A tiny favour, really. Miniscule. Do you think you could share this article on social media? I’m talking Facebook, Twitter (where you can follow Patrick Schwa), LinkedIn, Instagram, and so on. You could even ‘like’ and ‘follow’ me here if you’re feeling really generous. Cheers!
1. Estaba lloviendo cuando volvía a casa y me mojé mucho.
2. Los bancos se enriquecen mientras la gente se empobrece.
3. Me casé hace tres años.
4. Me divorcié seis meses después.
5. Me emborraché y me perdí en el centro…