I don’t care what Ms. Merriam-Webster, Mr. Oxford, or the Internet have to say about the word “set” and its 400+ definitions. There’s another word that has caused me to open my Spanish-English dictionary more times than my 9th-grade Spanish teacher:
If my experience is any indication, the word “get” has to be the most versatile word in the English language by very, very far and I was as surprised as you’ll be to learn that Spanish-speakers use a different word for just about every one of its meanings.
Here are just a few variations of it…
You’ve got to be kidding me?!
So how exactly do we distinguish between these various words?
Let’s get started with a simple sentence containing… oh, just a couple forms of the word “get.”
“Now, it’s important to get comfortable, but don’t forget to get out of the house once in a while to get some exercise before the weather starts getting worse! Got it?”
In just one sentence, you can see that “get” can have several distinct meanings.
In the first example, “get” preceded an adjective and meant something along the lines of “become”. This word in Spanish is “ponerse,” For example, we can say “get comfortable” in Spanish by saying, “Ponte cómodo.”
The second use of “get” was part of a phrasal verb (to get out), which shares its meaning with “to leave.” In Spanish, this verb would be “salir,” and we would tell someone to “¡Sal!”
Now, before I get any further, take a moment and try to think of how often we use “get” in English as part of a phrasal verb, as in the above case. You can typically recognize these when the word “get” is followed by something other than a noun (with a few exceptions). For example, “to get drunk” (emborracharse), “to get angry” (enojarse), and “to get past (something)” (superar (algo)) are all phrasal verbs and we must memorize them one-by-one.
In our third case, “to get some exercise” in Spanish doesn’t even use the verb “get” from English at all. Instead, we’ll say something along the lines of “hacer deporte” or “hacer ejercicio.” This roughly translates to “to do sport” or “to do exercise.”
The fourth case of “get” in this sentence used “get” when followed by an adjective. As with “salir,” this turns out to be its own word in Spanish. So, to say “to get worse” in Spanish, we will use the verb “empeorar” to say, for example, “El tiempo está empeorando.”
Finally, I asked if you “got it?” as in, “Did you understand?” In Spanish, we can either use the verbs “comprender,” “entender,” or more colloquially, “pillar.” Had I been typing in Spanish, I would have asked, “¿Lo comprendes?” “¿Lo entiendes?” or “¿Lo pillas?”
So, as we’ve seen here, the verb “get” can take on as many as five different meanings in just a sentence or two.
Get outta here!?
So what about all those other words above, like “atrapar” and “coger”?
First of all, “conseguir” (to get) and “obtener” (to obtain) are basically used interchangeably. You could almost argue that “recibir” (to receive) is part of that group, as well.
For example, we can say…
¡Voy a conseguir el nuevo Harry Potter mañana! (I’m going to get the new Harry Potter tomorrow!)
…whereas “obtener” would be more formal, as it would be in English…
“Se puede obtener el nuevo Harry Potter mañana en Best Buy.”
“Recibir” would be used in any case where “get” is interchangeable with “receive” in English.
For example… “¿Recibiste mi mensaje ayer?” (Did you get my message yesterday?)
“Coger” can be used to mean “to get,” as in “to grab.” Be careful though, because this word isn’t as pleasing to the ear in South America as it is in España.
¿Puedes coger mi gato, porfa? (Can you get my cat, please?)
And the list goes on…
Llegar – ¿Cómo llego al otro lado? (How do I get to the other side?)
Deber – Debes preparer la cena. (You’ve got to prepare dinner.)
Persuadir – Lo he persuadido a mirar. (I got him to look.)
Sacar – ¡Saqué una “A” en el examen! (I got an A on the exam!)
Captar – Ella siempre capta toda la atención. (She always gets all the attention)
Atrapar – La policía la atrapó al final. (The police got her in the end.)
And would you believe that I haven’t gotten to all of the different meanings of “get” here?
Don’t let this get you overwhelmed, though. As I encounter situations like this when learning a foreign language, I get reminded that language learning is a marathon, not a race. One step, one memorized word at a time is the only way to get where we want to go. And the best part is, once we become cognizant of our native language and really begin to get ahold of its nuances, getting this will be a piece of cake.
Beginning July 18th, 2016, Coffee Shop Spanish began doing a weekly series based on our hand-picked Word of the Week. Keep your eye out for articles, videos, links, and a lot more fun on all of our social media platforms. Have an idea for a word of the week? Tag us in a post on Facebook (@Coffee Shop Spanish), Twitter (@CoffeeShopSpan), or Instagram (instagram.com/coffeeshopspanish). We’ll respond to every single one of you. Promise!