learn it! title
 'Get' and 'become'
old man

Olga from Latvia asks:
Please tell me when we must use become and when we must use get.

Margarete Stepaneke from Austria asks:
I would very much like to know when to use become. My feeling is that verbs like get, turn, go and grow are often preferred to become. Is there a rule for when to use become?

Roger replies:

Get, as we shall see, has many different meanings whereas become basically indicates development of some kind.

Get is more informal and is frequently used in speech; become is more formal and is more often used in writing.

Get/become + adjective

When used with adjectives, get indicates growth or development and can therefore be used as the preferred alternative to become in an informal register. Compare the following sentences:

Informal Formal
I got interested in photography when I was ten. I became interested in art in later life.
As he got older, his garden got really messy. As he became older, he could no longer maintain his garden
It got colder and colder the further north we went. It became increasingly cold as we travelled north.
I'm getting quite hungry now, aren't you? He became quite angry when he discovered there was no food


Become + noun

We cannot, however, use get with a noun, even though the meaning is 'grow' or 'develop into'. We have to use become in this sense:

  • 'She was only seventeen when she became a beauty queen.'

  • 'Texas became the twenty-eighth state of the USA in 1845.

Get + noun/pronoun

When we use get with a noun or a pronoun as a direct object, get usually means 'obtain', 'acquire', 'receive' or 'fetch'.

Become is impossible here:

  • 'I got the highest marks in the class for my essay on Lord Byron.'

  • 'I got my goldfish from the pet shop down the road.'

  • 'I was getting about fifty emails every day when I was working on the project.'

  • 'Could you get me a punnet of peaches from the supermarket?'

  • 'Let me get you a drink. What'll you have?'

Get and go to indicate movement

Get indicates the end of a journey and can be used informally as an alternative to 'reach' or 'arrive at'. When we use go, we are talking about the 'complete journey', usually. Compare the following:

  • 'I usually go to work by car, but I went to Bristol by train yesterday.'

  • 'I didn't get home until nearly midnight.'

  • 'Can you tell me how to get to Buckingham Palace?'

Go, grow and turn to indicate a change of state

Grow indicates a slow change and sounds literary. It can be replaced by ‘become?or ‘get? Turn indicates a faster change and can be replaced by ‘go?

  • 'As they grew richer, they invested more money in shares.'

  • 'My aim is to grow old gracefully and with dignity.'

  • 'He drove away as soon as the lights turned green.'

  • 'The leaves turned brown as the weather got colder.'
There is so much more to get to know about get, Margarete, but I'll get into trouble with my editor if I make this reply any longer. It is a difficult area, but I hope it is slowly becoming clearer.