Getting in the Way of Progress

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This blog post is about the verb “to get,” and how sometimes this verb can get in the way of progress. Biber and Conrad (2001) list the verb “to get” as one of the twelve most commonly used verbs in spoken English, which explains why it would be an important verb to know. However, too much of a good thing can sometimes get in the way of progress. The verb “to get” and all its inflections can end up replacing every other possible verb, which in turn might prevent some learners from moving to the next stage of language proficiency. Hence, although students might find this verb to be useful, it can also set them back if they are not able to leap to the next set of less frequent words: the ones more proficient speakers use,  that get them the jobs they want or the test scores they need (e.g. college or university direct entry, immigration, work).

This commonly used verb also gets redundant. It gets in the way of progress… It gets tiring AND boring. Can’t you tell?

What can we do to help our students gain vocabulary skills?

  1. We can teach students to recognize different registers.
  2. We can provide or elicit alternative verbs.

Recognizing Register

Guided readings of news editorials or opinion pieces can be a rich source of language development. These types of texts tend to merge everyday speech with more advanced vocabulary. Although news articles are recommended for users with 8,000 to 9,000 word families at their disposal, teachers could introduce them at an earlier stage with the provision of structured, pre-reading strategies (Nation, 2000).

Finding Alternative Verbs

Besides pre-reading strategies, teachers can also help students make meaning of what they read. Helping students with paraphrasing by teaching them to shift from one register to another could be one way for students to notice a writer’s play between conversational, general, and formal registers (moving from first and second person, fragmented expressions and everyday language to more complex sentences that are topic based, or subjective).

The following multiple-choice activity asks students to replace the verb “to get” with its BEST alternative verb. This type of activity (or similar ones) could be used as a springboard to help students acquire more advanced (and specific) vocabulary:

Task: Replace the verb “to get” with the verb that BEST fits the idea in the sentence.

1. I (got) the data from the students between Monday and Tuesday of last week.
(a) communicated (b) eliminated
(c) collected (d) disseminated
2.      Ida has now (gotten over) the shock of losing her job.
(a) received of (b) recovered from
(c) collected from (d) deteriorated because
3.       The economic outlook is expected to (get better) in the coming months.
(a) win (b) uplift
(c) improve (d) receive
4.       The government hopes to (get rid of) the problem by the end of the year.
(a) communicate (b) obtain
(c) eliminate (d) deteriorate
5.       Our company (got) many orders in the second half of the year.
(a) received (b) improved
(c) won (d) communicated


Note: These types of awareness-raising activities should be created with text students will encounter, have read or produced. By revising their own writing or that of their peers, students are also more likely to acquire new vocabulary that is relevant to them.


Does it mean one register is better than the other? No, it doesn’t. It means that there is a place and time for any type of text. Students should know how their chosen register impacts their communicative competence at any given moment and time.

How do you help students leap to the next level? What’s your approach?


Biber, D., & Conrad, S. (2001). Quantitative Corpus-Based Research: Much More Than Bean Counting. TESOL Quarterly,35(2), 331-336. doi:10.2307/3587653

Nation, I. S. P. (2006). How large a vocabulary is needed for reading and listening? Canadian Modern Language Review, 63(1), 59-82. doi:10.1353/cml.2006.0049



Hi, my name is Cecilia. I love taking part in good brain awakening discussions. Blogging, I find, lends itself for that. I also believe in sharing my skills through scholarly practice, which is why I write regularly and have presented at several conferences, including TESL Ontario, TESL Toronto, CALL, and at Seneca College. My M.A. in applied linguistics along with my skills and experience have led me to my current position at Centennial College, where I teach English and ESL in the School of Advancement. I'm truly passionate about what I do: teaching, writing, creative expression, and helping my students (both L1 and L2) gain agency and take control of their own learning. Thank you for your readership and I look forward to reading and answering your comments. You can find me on Twitter @capontedehanna


6 thoughts on “Getting in the Way of Progress”

    1. Hello Gordon,
      Could you be more specific? “To get” and all its inflections would encompass these forms as well. However, the idea is to know what register to use and then using the best verb or phrase to express the idea. What’s your approach?

    2. Gordon, is your question to Cecile related to the tense inflections of the verve to get, as in got/simple past versus the past participle gotten in has gotten/had gotten.

  1. Hi all,
    Do not forget the British difference! This is an example of how “get” snakes its way into the language and takes firm hold.
    The short substitution exercise you presented is terrific.

    1. Glad you found the exercise useful! And you’re right: The English we use will depend on place of origin among other variables. Cheers!

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