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Get Passive Auxiliary (Get + Past Participle)

Get Passive Auxiliary (Get + Past Participle)

Get can be used in place of be to make another form of the passive auxiliary. For example: Alex got replaced by Steve.

In many cases, passives formed with be and passives formed with get seem interchangeable. For example:

be passive: The files were destroyed in the fire. get passive: The files got destroyed in the fire.

be passive: The cats were fed this morning. get passive: The cats got fed this morning.

be passive: The job was finished just in time. get passive: The job got finished just in time.

Despite a certain amount of overlap, get and be passives are different in a number of ways. The most important difference is in degree of formality. Get passives are much more informal than be passives. Consequently, it is relatively rare to find the get passive in formal writing. For example, it would be unimaginable that we would find this in a book or article:

The Civil War got caused by irreconcilable differences over slavery.

The standard form of that sentence is as follows:

The Civil War was caused by irreconcilable differences over slavery.

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The fact that get passives are primarily used in casual, spoken language means that nonnative speakers who mostly come into contact with formal, written English have virtually no exposure to the get passive.

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A second difference is that the get passive is largely restricted to actions and activities. Verbs that don't express action are often ungrammatical when used with a get passive. For example, compare the following sentences with both get and be passives:

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A third difference is that get passives are almost always used with animate subjects—90 percent of the time, according to one study. Inanimate subject are often ungrammatical. For example, compare the following get passives: ?

Animate subject: Fred got photographed right after it happened.

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Inanimate subject: X? The accident got photographed right after it happened.

The first sentence, with an animate subject, is fully grammatical, but the sentence with an inanimate subject is marginally grammatical at best. However, both of these sentences are fully grammatical with a be passive: Animate subject: Fred was photographed right after it happened. Inanimate subject: The accident was photographed right after it happened.

?For nonnative speakers, the biggest problem with get passives is that they are so highly idiomatic. This is not a very surprising fact given that get passives are almost exclusively used in informal, oral language. For example, get passives can be used in the let's construction. Let's a base-form verb is used to make a suggestion or a polite command. For example:

Let's go home.

Let's get back to work.

Let's eat! I'm starved.

Let's quit.

Here are examples of get passives used as the base-form verb in the let's construction:

Let's get married.

Let's get dressed.

Let's get washed up.

As we would expect, it is impossible to use a be passive in the let's construction:

X Let's be married.

X Let's be dressed.

X Let's be washed up.

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