General Writing and Grammar Help/Be vs. get [assive voice]


Dear Ted:

What is the difference between "get" and "be" when they are both used as auxiliaries to form the passive of sentences such as "He GOT / WAS arrested for robbery"?

Would you please give me some examples?

As always, many, many thanks for your kind help.


P.S. Ted, is it appropriate to use "auxilairies" in my first sentence?

Dear Paolo:

What is the difference between "get" and "be" when they are both used as
auxiliaries to form the passive of sentences such as "He GOT / WAS arrested for

*** First, your use of "auxiliaries" is correct.

Your question is a problem.  The correct version is "He WAS ARRESTED for robbery."  Now, here comes the "however."

Although "he GOT arrested" is incorrect, it is used as much as "he WAS arrested."  The use of "got" in place of "was" is so commonplace, it has become acceptable to everyone, EXCEPT strict grammarians.

Here is another example of the two versions:

Mary WAS OFFERED a scholarship to attend college.
Mary GOT OFFERED a scholarship to attend college.

Both version are used, but only the first is correct.  In this situation, "get" means "to reach for something."  [I will GET the book on the top shelf.]  If you omit "offered" from the sentence above, you will have "Mary GOT a scholarship to attend college."  This version implies that Mary actively TRIED to obtain the scholarship.  But, when you include the word "offered," the situation changes, because the action of offering is done by someone else and not Mary.

The "got _____" construction is a mystery to me.  If you WANT something, you GET it for yourself.  I just cannot picture Mary sitting around waiting for a scholarship to be offered to her.

I don't know if I am making any sense, but Paolo, it is almost always better to use the active voice.  It is also better to avoid using colloquialisms, like "got arrested."  If you express the idea using the active voice, you will not be faced with having to choose "was" or "got."

Try to stay away from GOT, except when you are actually talking about GETTING something.

Do you know the old song, "I've Got Sixpence"?    This situation is different from your original question, but I refer to the song, because the correct usage is "I HAVE sixpence."
The person or persons who wrote that song did not do any favors for students of English grammar.

*** I'm glad that the Braun material finally arrived.  NOW you can shave!


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Ted Nesbitt


I am the bibliographic instruction and reference librarian at a public college. Some members of the English department recommend me to their students. I offer assistance in grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, and paragraph development. My master`s thesis concerns William Faulkner`s tragic novels. I formerly taught advanced placement English at two schools in the Philadelphia area.


I have been one of the highest-ranked volunteers in this category for more than a decade.

B. A. and M. A in English; MSIS in Library & Information Sciences; graduate study in philosophy

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