Word Choice: Got vs. Gotten

Got vs. Gotten

Have you ever wondered about the difference between ‘got’ and ‘gotten’? This can seem confusing if you’re from the UK, since we do not typically use ‘gotten’ in British English. However, this term is common in North America, so it is helpful to know what it means. Check out our guide below to find out how to avoid errors when using the word ‘gotten’.

Present and Simple Past Tenses of ‘Get’

The present tense verb ‘get’ has several meanings, including:

  • Come to have or receive something (e.g. I hope we get a good reception)
  • Attain, achieve or obtain something (e.g. I get a newspaper every day)
  • Reach a condition or state (e.g. He will get fat if he eats the whole cake)

The simple past tense of this verb is always ‘got’, regardless of the context:

We got a great reception from the crowd.

I got the newspaper this morning.

He got fat when he ate all the cake.

This applies in all English dialects. So, if you are using the simple present or past tense in your writing, the only terms you will need are ‘get’ and ‘got’.

Past Participles: ‘Got’ in British English

We use past participles to form the present and past perfect tenses, which both show that an action has been completed. This verb form will follow ‘have’, ‘has’ or ‘had’ in a sentence. But the correct past participle form for ‘get’ depends on the dialect you’re using.

In British English, the past participle form of ‘get’ is always ‘got’:

She had got better in the last year.

I have got enough time for a cup of tea.

As such, if you’re writing for a UK audience, you will not need the word ‘gotten’. The only time it’s used in British English, in fact, is in old-fashioned terms like ‘ill-gotten’.

Past Participles: ‘Got’ in American English

American English uses both ‘got’ and ‘gotten’ as past participles:

  • ‘Got’ is used when referring to a state of owning or possessing something.
  • ‘Gotten’ is used when referring to a process of ‘getting’ something.

So if we were writing for a US audience, we would rewrite the examples above as follows:

She had gotten better in the last year.

I have got enough time for a cup of tea.

The difference is that ‘getting better’ is a process, so we use the past participle ‘gotten’. Having enough time for a cup of tea is a state, meanwhile, so we use ‘got’ in that sentence.

Summary: Got or Gotten?

In British English, ‘gotten’ is extremely rare (especially in formal writing). As such, you should always use ‘got’ instead of ‘gotten’ when you’re writing for a British audience. However, ‘gotten’ is common in North America. And if you’re using this term, remember the following:

  • Get is a present tense verb meaning ‘acquire’ or ‘obtain’.
  • Got is the simple past tense form of ‘get’, but it is also a past participle in American English when you are discussing a state of possession.
  • Gotten is a past participle of ‘get’. It is used in American English when referring to a process of ‘getting’ something.

As such, you should only use ‘gotten’ as the past participle of ‘get’ if:

  1. You are using American English.
  2. You are discussing a process of obtaining or acquiring something.

If these conditions don’t apply, you will need ‘got’ instead! And if you want to be certain your writing is the best it can be, don’t forget to have it proofread.

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