There is a legend in English teaching circles of a young man from Germany called Hans. Hans was a lively young man and decided one fine day to go for a walk in the forest. The forest was magical, as they often are in such stories, and soon poor Hans got lost and met a witch, as you often do in such stories. Hans was very hungry and, seeing the witch, abruptly asked her where her gingerbread house was.
“Young man” said the witch, quite annoyed at his rudeness, “I’m not that kind of witch! But if you ask me nicely I’ll get you something to eat. My house isn’t far away. What would you like?” Hans thought for a moment, then said, “I want to become a sausage.” Oops, that’s not something to say to a witch! Needless to say, the witch waved her magic wand and Hans became a sausage.
It’s not suprising that people have such a problem choosing between “get” and “become”. Both words can be used before adjectives: You can “get cold” or “become cold”. Here, the only difference is that “get” is more informal. Both phrases mean, “to gradually change from being warm to being cold”.
Before nouns, however, it starts to get tricky. In the above meaning (to change from one thing to another) you can use “become” but not “get” before a noun. “He became a pilot” means he changed from not being a pilot to being a pilot, but “He got a pilot” is sentence with a different meaning.
“He got a pilot” means he “obtained” or “received” a pilot, for example: “He got a pilot to fly his private jet” or “He got a Lego pilot to go with his Lego aeroplane.” The word “become” is not used to mean “to obtain” in English. Poor Hans didn’t know this, which is why he is now a sausage. “I want to become a sausage” can only mean “I want to change from not being a sausage to being a sausage”.
Here’s an exercise. Which of the two options is more normal? When can you use both “become” and “get” with little difference in meaning? If you’re not sure, double check if the words come before a noun or an adjective, and if the meaning “to receive / obtain” or “to change from one thing to another” makes more sense in the context. (Answers below)
- I want to become / get your wife.
- What do you want to get / become for Christmas?
- I’m becoming / getting tired
- The ugly duckling became / got a beautiful swan.
- I got some milk / I became some milk at the shops.
- I became / got sick after eating the lasagne.
As always, ask any questions below and please leave comments and suggestions for topics.
See you next time!
Answers 1. become (change into) 2. get (receive) 3. both (before an adjective) 4. became (change into) 5. got (obtain) 6. both (before an adjective)