JUNE 1998

Phrasal Verbs With "Get"

One of the grammar/vocabulary areas that causes most problems for students of English is phrasal verbs, and not surprisingly. Although discussed in previous columns, this difficult area (where the expression "you've just got to learn them" applies) is worthy of further attention. This time we turn the spotlight on phrasal verbs with the same base verb - "get".

"Get" is a verb whose use on its own is frowned upon by many purists, and its use should be avoided as far as is possible in formal contexts, where recourse to such verbs as obtain, acquire and receive is preferred. For example, "I received your letter/I received a lot of help" rather than "I got your letter/I got a lot of help". However, the phrasal verb forms, conveying as they do specific meanings, are accepted more readily.

Before reading any further, how many phrasal verbs with "get" can you think of? Here, we shall be looking at eight.

"Get through to" means to "make contact" and is most often used in the context of trying to contact someone by telephone, so you might say, "I've been trying to get through to him on the phone all morning". It can of course also be used when you succeed in contacting someone, such as: "I got through to him straight away", although here the connotation is that usually it is difficult to speak to him (because he's always on the phone). "Get through to" also represents the idea of making someone see sense or understand what you're saying, as in the example: "I just can't get the message through to him". "Get through" - without the preposition "to" - can mean to succeed in an examination or test, and to use, spend or consume ("we got though our money very quickly").

Next is "get by". The best way of explaining this phrasal verb is to substitute it for the word "survive". So if you said, "When I was a student, I got by on £20 a week", the idea is that £20 was all you needed to survive (i.e. to buy the basic, essential things every week).

"Apparently, he stole thousands of pounds from the company and got away with it for years". The phrasal verb "get away with" means to avoid being caught and punished, and is often used in the expression "He'll never get away with it", to express an opinion that someone who is doing or has done something wrong will not be able to escape punishment in the end.

To express the verb "to recover", often in an emotional sense, we often use the phrasal verb "get over". So we say, for example, "It took him a very long time to get over the death of his wife". "Get over" can also be used in the physical sense of recovery (getting over an illness). It can also mean "master" or "surmount" ("youÕll soon get over your shyness").

Having looked at four phrasal verbs with "get", now look at the following four sentences, and see if you can think of the phrasal verb with "get" that we would usually use in each case in English:

a) "I'm sorry, but I really must make a serious start on my homework".
b) "Do you have a good relationship with your father-in-law?"
c) "Don't worry. I know how to persuade my Dad to do something".
d) "What naughty things are the children doing now? It's far too quiet!"

You'll find the answers below.
It should be mentioned that these phrasal verbs each often have many different meanings - I have only highlighted some of them here. A good dictionary will list them separately, so if you look up "get over", for example, you'll find all the possible meanings.
Additionally, there are many other phrasal verbs with "get" which we haven't focused on here. Examples include the following: you get up in the morning, you get off the bus, you get in (arrive home) from work in the evening, and you get away (leave) as early as you can when you go on holiday.
In its many different guises, the verb "get" is certainly one of the most commonly used verbs in the English language (and more particularly in spoken English).

Now, let's look at the answers - and the way those other four phrasal verbs are used:
a) "I'm sorry, but I really must get down to my homework".
b) "Do you get on well with your father-in-law?"
c) "Don't worry. I know how to get round my Dad".
d) "What are the children getting up to now? It's far too quiet!"

Keith Worby