Have Got or Have Gotten?
I’ve always been uncertain about the the participle form of the word get. Is it correct to say I have got or I have gotten?
After doing some research, I don’t feel bad about my uncertainty. This is a tricky area with several contributing factors and lots of different opinions. Let’s see if I can shed some light on the issue.
Definition of Get
One problem is that there are numerous ways to use get — many of them idiomatic.
The primary definition is “to obtain or gain possession of,” as in If I clean my room, I get a quarter.
It can also mean, however, “to possess,” as in I’ve got a new catapult in the garage.
It can mean,”to cause to come or go,” as in I got my brother into the game for free or Get that pelican out of the kitchen.
Or it can mean “to have permission,” as in I get to eat ice cream for dinner.
Another use is “to cause to be in a certain condition,” as in Try not to get your toga dirty.
Get can mean “to arrive,” as in Tell me when we get there.
It can mean “to catch,” as in You got me, Copper or “to stump or confuse,” as in The capital of Nebraska? You got me.
Then there are the dozen or more idiomatic uses:
- This song always gets to me.
- When I get big, I want to be a fireman.
- I can’t get used to this new fishing pole.
- I don’t get that joke.
- Get a life.
- Get a clue.
- Get a move on.
- Get busy.
- What are you getting at?
- I’ll get even with you.
- You’re going to get it.
The Participle Form
Okay, so we have all these definitions and uses for the word. That’s no big deal. The question I pose is about the participle form. That’s the form you use with has/have/had in the present and past perfect tenses. Which of the following is correct?
A. I have gotten a good education at this school.
B. I have got a good education at this school.
A. I have gotten a headache.
B. I have got a headache.
A. We have gotten to leave this party now.
B. We have got to leave this party now.
American English vs. British English
One reason for the disagreement on this issue is the difference between American and British English. Americans sometimes use gotten. The British (almost) never do, or at least consider it an archaic form.
So, if you live in the U.K., you would answer B to all the examples above. Americans, however, would probably prefer B in the first example. In fact, citizens of the United Kingdom look at us funny when we say things like He has gotten a lot taller since Tuesday. But that’s an acceptable use in the States. In fact, it’s considered more formal here than He has got a lot taller.
In other words, non-American speakers of English don’t recognize gotten as the participial form. Got works in all cases, with the exception of archaic expressions like ill-gotten gain.
It’s a bit more complicated in the U.S. When we use get in the primary sense of “obtain or gain possession of” and in several other uses, it’s more common to use gotten in the perfect cases. Thus, we’d say,
- Come see the new TV I’ve gotten.
- He’s gotten a lot older-looking since last I saw him.
- They’ve gotten more interested in politics lately.
But when we use the word to mean “to possess” rather than “to obtain” we use got:
- Look what I’ve got!
- He’s got a lot of money.
- Who’s got the answer?
Some people find this use of got unnecessary, since dropping got and using simply have communicates the same thing:
- Look what I have!
- He has a lot of money.
- Who has the answer?
This does solve the problem, but the use of have got to mean simply have is very common and not in any sense incorrect.
The Emphatic Use
Sometimes we use got simply for emphasis. For example, there’s a different urgency communicated when we say, I have to go to the bathroom and when we say, I have got to go to the bathroom. Especially when the speaker stresses the word got.
Same goes for You have to be kidding me and You have got to be kidding me. There’s no difference in literal meaning, but there is a notable difference in emphasis.
So the Answer Is?
The answer is that you are generally safe to use just got with the helping verbs has, have, or had, especially if you are in the U.K. But there are Americans who much prefer has/have/had gotten in particular situations. My advice is to simply trust your ear. In this case at least, what sounds right usually is.
If you’ve got (or gotten) anything out of this post, I’d love to hear about it. Leave any comments below.