Got vs. gotten

In American and Canadian English, the past participle of the verb get is usually gotten. For example, we might say, “I have gotten behind on my work,” or, “The book was not gotten easily.” Got is the participle in some uses, though, such as where has got to or have got to means must (e.g., “We have got to go to the store.”) and where has got or have got means has or have (e.g., “I have got five sisters.”)  

In the main varieties of English from outside North America, the past participle of get in all its senses is usually got. Gotten appears occasionally, and it is standard in a few set phrases such as ill-gotten gains, but the shorter form prevails by a large margin.

That gotten is primarily used in North America has given rise to the mistaken belief that it is American in origin and hence new and inferior. But gotten is in fact an old form, predating the United States and Canada by several centuries. It fell out of favor in British English by the 18th century, but it was eventually picked up again on the other side of the Atlantic, perhaps by analogy with forgotten.

The vehemence of some Britons’ scorn for gotten likely has to do with the fact that it has gained ground in British English over the last couple of decades. Many English speakers from outside North America resist the encroachment of so-called Americanisms (many of which, like gotten, are not actually American in origin) on their versions of English, and, for mysterious reasons, some feel especially strongly about gotten.


In the U.S. and Canada, gotten is the past participle of get in most of its senses, as in these examples:

Values have gotten a bad rap because of how they are discussed in politics and as they relate to religious beliefs. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer]

I’ve long gotten a thrill from the rawness and messiness of our local politics. [National Post]

But got is the past participle for some senses of get—for example:

The Republican Party has got to change. [Allentown Morning Call]

Whoever the Bombers hire, they want to do it quickly because they’ve got so many other critical decisions to make. [Winnipeg Free Press]

Outside the U.S., got, as used in these examples, is the preferred past participle of get in all its senses:

He has got out 25 times to left-arm slow bowlers in his Test career. [Telegraph]

Australia hasn’t got talent any more. [Sydney Morning Herald]

I have never been particularly houseproud or tidy, but things seem to have got out of hand. [letter to Guardian]

33 thoughts on “Got vs. gotten”

  1. One of my primary school teachers recommended we avoid get and do entirely because there is almost always a more specific verb (become, buy; carry out, perform etc.). Obviously, she was referring to the verbs and not the auxiliary verbs, and many collocations require get and do. I disagree with her advice as a strict rule, but it’s often a good way to smarten up a piece of text.

  2. I was once told that ‘gotten’ is not a word. That person gets in trouble with that belief and has gotten others to agree. ‘Look it up’ is always a good rule. Get Webster’s Tenth Collegiate dictionary and you will have gotten yourself a useful tool.

  3. I believe that the resurfacing of “gotten” in the US as described above was the result of a process best explained by the following example:

    “I have a cold” implies that I have got (=acquired) one, and this is often conveyed by the semantically equivalent sentence “I’ve got a cold”. Now this last sentence is sometimes uttered incorrectly as “I got a cold”. Hence, the meanings of “I have a cold” and “I got a cold” are equivalent, albeit expressed in a different speech register.

    But suppose the person who “got a cold” (=has a cold) wants to express the circumstances under which he/she contracted the disease. He/she quite naturally says “I have gotten this cold while I was camping in the mountains”. This present perfect of the colloquial verb (the present indicative form of which is got) is being used since no past (“I gotted”) exists.

    Generalization: “gotten” has imposed itself as a past participle whenever people use “got” with the grammatically incorrect meaning of a present indicative.

    The above is not the result of research, it is my private guess!

    • ” “I have gotten this cold while I was camping in the mountains””

      “…have got(ten) this cold” with “…I was…”

      Should it be ” got this cold..”?

      • Sandy, you are right because language is not math. But what you and I would probably say does not illustrate the use of “gotten” by other people. JFD

      • “I got this cold…” is fine. “Get” means “acquire” after all. But “I’ve gotten this cold while…” does sound right. Why perfect tense? On the other hand, “I’ve gotten this cold since I was camping in the mountains” sounds fine. Don’t ask me why.

          • Or some of us ‘old’ Americans. I was just editing one if my granddaughters short stories, and circled the word ‘gotten’ as “not a word”. Then I decided to look it up (before returning the manuscript to her) and read the above. I still think there is a better way to convey the thought rather than to use, what I consider the awkward and ill-sounding word, ‘gotten’.

        • Good point. I think in almost every instance, substituting another word for “gotten” or “got” not only seems better, but is more descriptive as well. Examples: “I earned a raise at work,” instead of, “I got a raise at work.” “I picked some berries,” instead of, “I got some berries.” “We had arisen at 6:00 am,” instead of, “We had gotten up at 6:00 am.” However, the “up” in the second sentence in the last example does improve the use of the word “gotten”.

    • Sorry, but “I have a cold” and “I got a cold” are in no way equivalent. “I have a cold” is in the present tense; it’s happening now. On the other hand, “I got a cold” is something that happened in the past (before this instant, if you will); it more nearly equates with “I ‘caught’ a cold” – like I said, past tense. As you said in reply to SandySure, none of this really has anything to do with the incorrect way/s other people use the words “got” and “gotten” ~ other than to prove that as words do mean something, we should be as clear as possible when we use them. ;-)

      • What you are saying is the truth, but I do not believe it to be all the truth or nothing but the truth. It could well be my fault, however, because I may not have been clear enough in my first explanation.

        Let us consider the “having a cold” example in the educated and the colloquial speech registers. You are correct when you write that “I have a cold” and “got a cold” are in no way equivalent (sic), but this is only true within the realm of the educated speech register. I contend that “I have a cold” in the educated register is equivalent to “I got a cold” in the colloquial register. This is why: “I got a cold” in the colloquial register is just a sloppy, equivalent utterance of “I’ve got a cold” in the educated register, which in turn means “I have caught a cold” some time in the past and thus “I have it right now”. Therefore “I got a cold” (colloquial) = “I have a cold” (educated). QED.

        I you believe that there is some truth to the above, you will perhaps
        agree with my original comment, the object of which, “gotten”, went beyond this reply here.

    • I don’t think it’s ‘resurfaced’ so much as it never left. ‘Got’ and ‘gotten’ were both in use in England once, and both came to North America in pre-Revolutionary times. The English later stopped using ‘gotten’, we didn’t. And we still use ‘got’ in things like ‘I’ve got a car.’ and ‘I’ve got to go.’

        • An English friend just remarked that she loves when I use “gotten” since it is now considered archaic in the UK. She’s highly educated and an historian who extensively researches old documents and journals (which probably explains a lot), so I will trust her advice to confidently use it when speaking, but not when writing.

          My ancestors were in the American colonies by the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, so it’s nice to know that some of their speech patterns have survived. Some of my grandmother’s recipes have archaic names.

          • Thanks for the reply. I assume, therefore, that you prefer forthcoming
            to upcoming. Forthcoming, the older word, is more usual in the UK whereas I
            think upcoming is probably more often used in the USA. However, upcoming has
            become more common in the UK over the last few years. I must admit that, on
            this choice, I am with you and prefer the older of the two.

  4. Interesting discussion of the different usages between North America and Britain. One thing we can all agree on though is that “has got to” in the sense of *must* or *have* is simple present tense not perfect, so no participle is involved.

  5. I’m American (Texan, actually), do a lot of writing, and when writing, I often use the word “got”, and then upon review, find it somehow just seems uncouth or something, though I can’t put my finger on exactly why. I recently wrote the following part of a compound sentence: “He probably then went on to San Antonio, where he got the film developed…”. I rewrote it to be: “He probably then went on to San Antonio, where he had the film developed…”. The second version using “had” in place of “got” just seems better for some reason. I’ve got to stop using “got”.

    • That’s true. I always believe that if something sounds clumsy, change it rather than deliberating for hours over the correct usage.

  6. I used the word in his phrase and was told only certain people of colour use this word. I wrote ” Have you gotten any results? And was told it was incorrect.

    • Since I’m an American, your use of the word “gotten” sounds perfectly fine to me and seems in accordance with the usage of the word as instructed on this website. Your spelling of “colour” leads me to believe you are English or British. Is that true? If so, then evidently that is not a preferred usage on your side of the Atlantic.

  7. I found this discussion while looking up “gotten”. Many of the examples above are just poor English.
    e.g. it is better to say “The Republican party must change”.
    …they have so many other critical decisions to make..
    he has been “out” 25 times (or “bowled”)
    Australia hasn’t any talent …
    This one is acceptable; I have never been particularly houseproud or tidy, but things seem to have got out of hand.

    P.S.By the way, I have a cold.

  8. I only started hearing ‘gotten’ when I first got (no pun intended!) on Facebook. I use got. Have never use ‘gotten’ – gotten sounds a bit clunky. Seems to be more of a USA thing.

  9. “In the main varieties of English from outside North America” . . . this sort of comment always makes me chortle. The ‘main varieties of English’ . . . such as . . . in England, from where the language originates. I find the whole concept of Amercian English somewhat comical. People, there is English and there are mistakes. If you want to create a new version of a language that’s fine, just give it a new name. Afrikaans and Dutch is a good example of this.
    The word got, especially in North America, very often shows a laziness in use of language. Take the four examples from the US above; every single one of them could have been better written with the use of a more precise word (verb) than got.
    Some languages have a generic verb for responses to questions for ease of use, such as gjøre in Danish. English does not have an equivalent, not even in North America and especially not in the creation of original sentences. Laziness is the greatest threat to the proper use of English, no matter where you choose to speak it.


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