Word Choice: Got vs. Gotten
  • 3-minute read
  • 9th April 2019

Word Choice: Got vs. Gotten

Both “got” and “gotten” are common terms in North America, but other English dialects do not use “gotten” at all. So why is this? And what is the exact difference between “got” and “gotten”? Check out our guide below to find out how to avoid errors when using these terms.

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” and “Gotten” in American 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. And American English uses both “got” and “gotten” as past participles:

  • We use “got” when referring to a state of owning or possessing something.
  • We use “gotten” when referring to a process of “getting” something.

For example, if we were describing the process of “getting better” at something, we would use the past participle “gotten” in the perfect tenses:

She had gotten better in the last year.

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But if we were describing possessing enough time for something, we would use “got.” For example:

I have got enough time for a coffee before I go out.

The same usage applies in Canadian English. However, the term “gotten” is much rarer outside North America.

Past Participles in Other English Dialects

In other English dialects, the correct past participle form of “get” is always “got.” For instance, if we were to rewrite the examples above for a British audience, we would say:

She had got better in the last year.

I have got enough time for a cup of tea.

Notice that both sentences use “got” as a past participle. As such, if you’re writing for a non-American audience, you will not need the word “gotten.” In fact, the only time this term is used in dialects such as British and Australian English is in old-fashioned terms like “ill-gotten.”

Summary: Got or Gotten?

In American English, “got” and “gotten” can both be past participles of the verb “get.” The correct term depends on what you are describing:

  • Use got when referring to a state of possessing something.
  • Use gotten when referring to a process of “getting” something.

However, “gotten” is extremely rare outside North American (especially in formal writing). As such, you should always use “got” when you’re writing for a non-American audience. And if you want to be certain your writing is the best it can be, don’t forget to have it proofread.

Comments (12)
Paul Kanu
30th October 2020 at 01:32
Thank you! But, I'd like to know if it is correct for one to say "has gotten" when one wants to talk about things one has acquired? For instance, I have gotten my PHD in Economics.
    Proofed
    30th October 2020 at 11:05
    Hi, Paul. As in the post, this will depend on what you're trying to say. If you're simply referring to having the qualification (i.e., a state of possession, not the process of getting it), you'd usually say something like "I have got a PhD in economics." But if you're referring to the process of having studied for a PhD after you've finished, you might say "I have gotten my PhD in economics."
Anton
2nd November 2020 at 07:25
What about in this form? Do you say "had he got the chance to see these, he would have smiled." or do you use gotten?
    Proofed
    2nd November 2020 at 08:44
    Hi, Anton. Since the tense requires a past participle there, US English speakers would typically use "gotten." However, this might depend on whether the focus is having the chance or the process of getting the chance.
    Rithya
    12th February 2021 at 07:14
    We should’ve got Isaiah a cake too.
      Proofed
      12th February 2021 at 10:09
      Hi, Rithya. "We should’ve got Isaiah a cake too" would focus on possession, but the standard form in US English would be "We should’ve gotten Isaiah a cake too" if you're referring to the process of acquisition because "should've" is a contraction of "should have."
Katyayani
18th February 2021 at 11:39
What about this sentence? "Kabir said he had (got/gotten) a bad bruise on his left knee."
    Proofed
    18th February 2021 at 12:53
    Hi there. As set out in the post, American English favors "gotten" as the past participle form if you're referring to a process of acquiring something and "got" when referring to simple possession, so it may depend on what you're attempting to communicate in the sentence.
      Fred
      18th February 2021 at 22:21
      There is no need to use got or gotten in the sentence. It's a statement, ''Kabir said he had a bruise on his left knee''; if it was for instance, ''While kabir was out he said he'd got a bruise on his knee'' then you use got or gotten depending on if you're UK or US.
      Proofed
      19th February 2021 at 08:49
      Fair point if that is the intended tense, Fred! We were assuming the context justified use of the past perfect.
Lara Solis
6th November 2021 at 02:50
The Shopper was angry when he realized he "could have gotten" or "could have got" it cheaper at the other store. which would be correct?
    Proofed
    9th November 2021 at 12:13
    Hi, Lara. As explained in the post, American English tends to use "gotten" when referring to a process of “getting” something (and your example refers to "getting" something at a store).

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