Passives with 'get'


  • Identify the difference between a get-passive and a standard passive.
  • Describe some of the differences between get-passives and standard passives in terms of grammar, semantics, and pragmatics.

Lesson Plan

The teacher explains that today, we will look at passives.

First, let's briefly review our understanding of actives, and of passives and get-passives. 

In a standard active construction the Subject is the agent:

  • A snake bit Uncle Ahmed.

In a standard passive construction, the Subject is not the agent. A standard passive contains a form of be followed by a past participle:

  • Uncle Ahmed was bitten by a snake.

Was is a form of be, and bitten is a past participle. Uncle Ahmed is the Subject but not the agent - he didn't do the biting. Instead, the snake did!

In a get-passive, be is replaced by get:

  • Uncle Ahmed got bitten by a snake.

Now you are ready to begin the Activity with your students. The Activity page appears in the menu entitled 'This Unit' in the upper right corner of this page. The Activity page includes slides with examples drawn from our corpus of real language in use. The slides can be displayed on a whiteboard or projector. Each slide presents a standard passive and a get-passive. In fact, each pair of passives differs only in that the first contains be and the second contains get. Look at the slides with your students and do the following: 

  • Identify precisely what is different and what is similar between each pair of written examples.
  • Try to describe whether the meaning is the same or different between the two examples. If it is different, how is it different?
  • Imagine whether you would be more likely to use one or the other example in a particular situation.

After looking at all of the slides, can you summarise the similarities and differences between passives that include the word be (and is, am, are, etc.) and passives that include the word get? Students may notice any of the following, and may find additional points as well:

  • One version includes be and one version includes get.
  • Both versions include a past participle after be or get.
  • In both versions, the Subject is not the agent.
  • One version may just not 'sound right' - encourage students to explore why that may be.
  • Get may be less formal than be.
  • Get might be expected in spoken language or casual language more than be.
  • Get might emphasise the action of the verb (as in got dented) while be might emphasise the resulting state (as in was dented).
  • Get might suggest that the Subject is at least partially responsible for what happend (as in she got hit by a car), while be probably doesn't suggest that.

Now look through the slides again and ask the following questions:

  • How would you turn each statement into a question? Do you follow the same procedure for the passives that include be and the passives that include get?
  • How would you make each statement negative (by inserting not)? Do you follow the same procedure for the passives that include be and the passives that include get?

Note that turning each statement into a question reveals grammatical differences between get-passives and standard passives.

  • Uncle Ahmed was bitten by the snake. → Was Uncle Ahmed bitten by the snake?
  • Uncle Ahmed got gitten by the snake. → Did Uncle Ahmed get bitten by the snake?

Note that we cannot say *Got Uncle Ahmed bitten by the snake?.

Similarly, making each statement negative reveals a grammatical difference between the two types of examples.

  • Uncle Ahmed was bitten by the snake. → Uncle Ahmed was not bitten by the snake.
  • Uncle Ahmed got bitten by the snake. → Uncle Ahmed did not get bitten by the snake.

With get-passives, we must insert the auxiliary verb do. With standard passives, we simply insert the negator not.

Finally, ask students to consider the following question:

  • These constructions are usually called standard passives (with be) and get-passives (with get). Are they similar enough for us to regard them as belonging in the same category? Or are they so different that we should not consider them to be part of the same category?

In answering this question, students should consider their descriptions of each example in terms of grammatical similarities and differences and semantic similarities and differences. With this question, as with many questions in grammar, there is grey area - it isn't necessarily clear whether these examples belong in a single category or two categories, and linguists continue to debate this topic.


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