Got / Gotten and Noah Webster

Cecil’s column on got vs. gotten says that Noah Webster’s dictionary was first published in 1864. Um, dude, Noah Webster died in 1843. His dictionary first appeared in 1806.’s_Dictionary
I’m surprised that after so many years, this 1977 column still hasn’t corrected this glaring error. (Or typo, right? Please tell me it’s just a typo.)

Whatever about that, the term ‘gotten’ is still in common usage in Ireland along with “ye” to mean ‘you (plural)’ - the construction “ye thought ye had gotten away with it, didn’t ye?” may appear quaint and archaic to most but to us it makes perfect sense.

Topic: “What’s correct, ‘he had GOT some’ or ‘he had GOTTEN some’?”

Unfortunately, Cecil’s answer (that both are okay) ignores a critical difference between that question and his example, to wit:

" ‘We’ve got ten thousand dollars for laboratory equipment,’ means that the funds are in our possession–we have them. ‘We have gotten ten thousand dollars for laboratory equipment,’ means that we have obtained or acquired this particular sum of money."

The difference is, the example is in the present perfect tense (“have got”) and the question is in the past perfect or pluperfect (“had got”). Thus, the example is not relevant to the question. Cecil’s answer may still be valid, I don’t know; but to me, the use of “got” in the past perfect seems very awkward, and I’d vote for the use of “gotten,” or even the simple past tense (“he had some”), over “had got.”

More generally, the use of “got” WITH “have” (“I’ve got a headache”) is actually a redundancy – the British do fine with a simple “have” (“I’ve a good idea”), unless they’re talking about obtaining something (“I’ve gotten assistance in using my computer”). The redundancy isn’t necessarily a problem… except when you’re trying to figure out which verb to conjugate how.

I cannot think of an instance of gotten that cannot be either omitted or shortened to got. In the case of “we have gotten ten thousand dollars for laboratory equipment”: with gotten shortened to got, it would mean “we have acquired”; with gotten omitted, it would mean simply “we have”.

Gotten has a certain ambiguity, but tends, in this case, to mean “we have acquired”. The phrase “have got” can be a colloquialism meaning simply “have”, especially when used with things, such as contractions, which suggest colloquial speech. Hence Cecil’s dichotomy of “we have gotten” meaning “we have acquired” and “we’ve got” meaning “we have”. This correctly represents how the phrases would tend to be interpreted, but not their grammatical nature, nor how they should properly be used.

If you wanted to talk about how you got money, you would say, “We have got (or acquired) ten thousand dollars for laboratory equipment.” If you wanted to talk about how you have money, you would say, “We have ten thousand dollars for laboratory equipment.” Gotten is not necessary in any instance.

And as far as I can tell the tense of have has nothing to do with it; change it to had in every example above and it still works.

About the dictionary, he might have been thinking of Noah Porter and confused the names.

Well, I was born a Brit, and still was last time I looked … :smiley: and neither I nor anyone I know would use the word “gotten” - it’s seen as an Americanism, although one I’d often like to use to impart the meaning of “acquired”. It would just sound unnatural.

I would also more usually say “I’ve got a good idea”.


This mistakes the difference between “We have the equipment,” and “We have gotten the equipment.” In the former case, one has the equipment in the present, with no concept of when and how long the equipment has been in possession. In the latter case, one understands that the equipment, regardless of its current status (you might have had it taken away since) came into your possession sometime in the past, having not been in your possession at the time. Yes, you can substitute other verbs, but a wider vocabulary has as its point to have diverse ways of saying a thing. :slight_smile:

Did you even read the rest of my post?

Okay, that wasn’t helpful, I admit. I’m simply saying gotten is unnecessary because “we have got” and “we have gotten” mean the same thing. People only think there’s a difference because, as I said,

and thus gotten came to be so popular.

Personally I’ll be saying “I have got” and I really doubt anyone will misunderstand me. You may think “I have gotten” sounds better, but I would have to disagree with you.

You still misunderstand the difference between the two. Read what Unca Cece says carefully. There is a distinct difference between the meaning of “have got”, “have gotten” and “have”. I don’t think you yet understand the nuance of using one form as opposed to the other, even though they are, admittedly, the same verb form.

No, I don’t, goddammit. The only reason there’s a difference between “have got” and “have gotten” is that the colloquial sense of “have got,” meaning “have,” influences people’s interpretation of “have got,” weakening its true sense. But some listeners are able to ignore such influences when they are obviously not pertinent.

And that’s all I’m going to say on this silly subject. If you still don’t get it, I give up trying to explain it.

The part in italics is incorrect. Have got does NOT mean “have”. You do not understand this.

Why not?

OK. when Sinéad O’Connor goes “I Do Not Want What I Have Not Got,” why exactly did she use that choice of words? How do you know if she meant “what I don’t have” … or … “what I haven’t gotten”?

<brain explodes>

I’m still trying to figure out exactly what Cecil meant with the got/gotten variation in the ten-thousand-dollar sentence, and now I have all this extra stuff to deal with. <sob>

Hang on, I thought we’d all agreed on this much:

I possess a kettle (specific)
I have got a kettle (American or British)
I have a kettle (British alternative (and less common) form)

I have acquired a kettle (specific)
I have gotten a kettle (American)
I have got a kettle (British and just a little bit ambiguous)

I thought the question was whether “gotten” was EVER correct.
As a proud Brit, I was shocked when His Cecilness told us it was perfectly correct.
And I’d just “gotten” used to this when everyone started arguing…

What fun! Seems like we’re not talking about anything that can actually be decided by rules of grammar – these seem to be idioms, which differ between British English and American English.

Not being British (except by heritage, which evidently wears off) I thought the British would use “gotten” as in my (previous post’s) example, “I’ve gotten assistance.” I stand corrected. But I have never heard an American say (or write) anything using “have” alone, AS AN ABBREVIATION – e.g., “I’ve a good idea” – and I have read British writers using it that way, e.g. “I’ve a good mind to…”

Americans (and British?) routinely use “have” in full – “I have a good idea” – but if you abbreviate the “have,” you need to use “got” – “I’ve got a good idea.” These (as far as I can tell) are identical in meaning.

So I don’t agree with DSYoungEsq that “have got” does NOT mean “have.” At least, I can’t imagine how these two differ – perhaps he’ll give an example that will clarify this for me. Even in the idiom emphasizing that something must happen – “you have got to see this movie” – you could also say “you have to see it.” (But you can’t use “gotten” in this idiom.)

But I wouldn’t have thought that “have got” was a colloquialism (except to British English speakers), though apparently it is to some American English speakers (e.g. RKTS). It does sound less formal, and as I said in my previous post, the “got” seems redundant to me – because unlike “gotten,” it doesn’t change the meaning of “have.”

Now, addressing Chorpler’s heartfelt plea, the issue at hand (as I understand it) is which of the following is acceptable: “he had GOT some” or “he had GOTTEN some.” Cecil says, both are acceptable, but they mean different things.

But Stevejones_uk thought the question was whether “gotten” was ever correct. Perhaps because I’m not a British English speaker, I thought “gotten” was always acceptable. Personally, I would have thought the question was whether “got” was always correct, because to my ear, “he had got some answers to his questions” sounds wrong. On the other hand, Cecil’s example, “We’ve got ten thousand dollars for laboratory equipment,” sounds fine to me, and means just what he says it means: the funds are in our possession – we have them. (Though, again, it seems to me that this would be unchanged if you dropped the “got” and dis-abbreviated the “have.”)

But this example works because it’s in the present: we have them NOW. If you want to make that point about the PAST, i.e. in the past perfect tense, it seems redundant and awkward to say “he had got some answers.” Saying “he had some answers” has the same meaning, and avoids complications. If you abbreviate the “had,” you wouldn’t say “he’d some answers” (unless perhaps if you were British), and then you could say “He’d got some answers” – but I still wouldn’t say that, since it sounds awkward to me. Also, it’s emphasizing the obtaining, which needs “gotten.” So I’d say either “He’d gotten” or just “He had.”

That is, “gotten,” at least for American English speakers, or at least for some of us (maybe just me and DSYoungEsq), means “acquired”; and that distinction still works, in the past perfect, at least for me: “We had gotten ten thousand dollars for laboratory equipment,” meaning “we had acquired.” But this does sound a little awkward unless you abbreviate – “We’d gotten” – and for me, more formal usage would avoid “gotten” altogether, and substitute something specifying HOW we’d gotten it: “acquired” or “been given.”

The point seems to be that use of “got” or “gotten” with “have” enables one to emphasize the fact that something is NOW in existence (“we have got enough money to do it” – with emphasis on “have”; otherwise, I’d abbreviate the “have”) or has now been obtained (“we’ve gotten enough money by now”), or had been obtained (“we’d gotten enough money by then”), as opposed to a non-emphasized statement of possession (“we have enough” or “we had enough”). And this non-emphasized form is identical to “We’ve got,” at least for some people.

And some people seem to be comfortable emphasizing the fact that something was then in existence (“we’d got enough money”), while others aren’t comfortable with that syntax or would make that emphasis by dis-abbreviated “have.”

These different emphases may or may not differ for various speakers of English, and we await with bated breath the full story of how speakers of British English make such distinctions with their more limited vocabulary (ISSFH – insert sideways smiley face here).

This is a column where Cecil has clearly blown it.

His distiction between “got” and “gotten” just reflects the American instinct to think the past participle of “get” is “gotten.”

“Have got” is actually a linguistic pet peeve of mine.

“Have got,” in the sense Cecil mentions, has NOTHING to do with the past participle of “get.” It’s PRESENT TENSE. It’s an expression which means the exact same thing as “have.” It’s just an emphatic form. It’s also used in the sense of obligation. You have to understand this. I’m sorry, you’ve GOT to understand this.

It’s just a redundancy. “Got” brings nothing to the party, folks, no matter how “right” it feels. It’s as useless to say “You’ve got” as “You’ve gone and.” “Got” doesn’t mean “possession.” “HAVE” means “possession.” The notion of “got” meaning possession leads to the repugnant back formation “I got” = “I have.” That isn’t Shakespeare.

When Cecil says “‘We have gotten ten thousand dollars for laboratory equipment,’ means that we have obtained or acquired this particular sum of money,” he just reinforces the American notion that the past participle of “get” is “gotten,” something Cecil clearly stated he was against.

Perhaps, it’s the wisespread usage of “have got” for “have” that has brought “gotten” back into vogue. It opens “linguistic space.” Just like the abolition of “thou” opens up space for “y’all.” It just goes to show, bad grammar like “have got” just breeds more bad grammar.

“We’ve got ten thousand dollars for laboratory equipment,” should not be reduntant because the sense of possession should NOT EXIST.

“Has got” has got to go.

OK, this is SunSawed’s retort to Sinéad O’Connor:

I Do Not Want "Have Got."

As a rule of thumb, where two forms of a past participle appear to be standard, the form that ends in -en is the Scots usage, & the shorter, looks-just-like-the-preterite form is the Received English. Ireland & America often go with the Scots form, but schoolmarms may consider it nonstandard, & some of us tend to to use the shorter form due to influence from the BBC, English pop stars, or a desire to speak in a quicker manner.

On the other hand, “Have got” is a very common, very improper, colloquial nonstandard idiom for “have,” or “possess.” Cecil’s example less helps his case than makes him look like the ignorant person he is.