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Is It Correct to Say “Gotten”?

Learning a language can be difficult, especially when people who speak the same language use different words depending on where they live. For example, in the case of the terms “got” or “gotten,” is “gotten” correct?

It is correct to say “gotten” because it is the past participle of “get,” which means “to receive.” However, while it is correct in American English, it is not standard in British English. In contrast, American English frequently uses “gotten” as part of the perfect tense and in various phrases.

The word “gotten” is widespread and useful in American English, so if you want to learn more about using this past participle correctly, keep reading!

Is It Grammatically Correct to Say “Gotten”?

It is grammatically correct to say “gotten” in American English as the past participle of “get.” The past participle typically expresses completed action, and we use it to form the active perfect tense (source).

Since “gotten” is the past participle, it is correct to use it with “have” or “has” to form the present perfect to describe an action that someone has completed.

What Does “Gotten” Mean?

Now that you understand that “gotten” is the past participle of “get,” it’s important to note that the verb “get” has multiple meanings. For instance, to “get” means to receive, but, in some instances, it can also mean “to become.” It can also mean being able or allowed to do something (source).

Let’s start with the basics. The most straightforward meaning of “gotten” is “to have or receive.” For example, you might say:

  • I have gotten a call from the school.

In the above sentence, the speaker wants their audience to know that they have received a call. In other words, someone called them. Here is another example:

  • He has gotten takeout every day this week.

In this sentence, the word “gotten” refers to the act of receiving a physical thing that he ordered. In this case, that thing is a package from the post office.

Sometimes you may use “gotten” to mean something that isn’t physical. Take the following sentence, for example:

  • She seems to have gotten a cold.

Another way to say the above is “she caught a cold.”

“Gotten” can also mean “understood.” You might say: 

  • I had never gotten math until now. 

This sentence would mean that you never understood math before, but now you do.

Using “Gotten” in a Full Sentence

Since “gotten” is a past participle, you can use it in the present and past perfect tenses. However, using the past participle requires the helping verbs “have” or “had.” 

First, let’s look at how to use “gotten” in the present perfect tense. Consider the following example:

  • John and Sarah have gotten everything from their baby registry.

The above sentence is in the present perfect tense, meaning that it shows something completed at some time before the present. You use the helping verb “has” or “have” with the past participle to show this verb tense. Here are some examples:

  • I have gotten the same dish every time I go there.
  • He makes sure his students have gotten the idea before moving to the next topic.

Similarly, you can combine the past participle with “had” to form the past perfect. The past perfect shows that something happened before another event in the past (source). Here’s an example to clarify:

  • He had gotten his coat before he left for the day.

In this sentence, both actions — getting the coat and leaving — happened at some point in the past. The speaker expressed the act of getting the coat as the past perfect (“had gotten”) because it happened before the second action, leaving for the day.

In What Context Can You Use “Gotten”?

You can use “gotten” when you want to describe how someone has received or obtained something. Since “gotten” is the past participle, you can use it with “has” or “had” when you want to use the present or past perfect.

One way you might use “had gotten” is to provide background information. For example, if you are telling a story about your car, and you think it is relevant to mention you had only just bought the car that summer, you might say:

  • I had gotten the car that summer.

The phrase “had gotten” tells your audience that you completed the act of acquiring the car at a point before the other events in your story.

When Can You Use “Gotten”?

Besides the meanings we’ve already discussed, you can also use the word “gotten” in a couple of expressions. Both involve the addition of prepositions: “into” and “along.”

First, you might use “gotten” in the phrase “gotten into.” This is an American phrase that you can use in several ways. First, it can mean “to enjoy something” (source). For example, you might say:

  • I have really gotten into baseball lately.

The above example means that the speaker has begun to enjoy baseball quite a bit. However, this isn’t the only way you can use “gotten into,” however. It can also indicate the beginning of a conversation, like in the following example:

  • We had gotten into a debate over which college was the best.

“Gotten into” is also an expression you can use when you believe someone acts out of character. For example, someone might state this in the following way:

  • I don’t know what has gotten into you lately.

This is a common idiom to express confusion over someone’s behavior. You will notice that many of these expressions use a preposition such as “along” or “into.” Paying attention to the preposition will often help you understand how someone is using “gotten.”

When Not to Use “Gotten”?

When using British English, it is not appropriate to use “gotten.” Instead, you would use “got” where we have used “gotten” so far. Using “got” will sound more natural to those who speak British English.

The use of “gotten” instead of “got” works best in American contexts. For instance, in American English, you would say:

  • He has gotten lost.

But in British English, you might say:

  • He has got lost.

Both are correct, depending on where you would use them. Just remember that “gotten” is correct in American English but not for British English. So for British English, you should use “got” instead.

Image by Sam Moqadam on Unsplash

How Do You Use “Gotten”?

You can use “gotten” as a part of the present perfect tense. To do this, you will need to use “have,” “has,” or “had.” For example, you can use the phrase “have gotten” to describe something that happened at an unspecified time in the past (source).

As we said, “gotten” has a wide range of meanings. Therefore, there are many contexts where you could use “have gotten.” For example, you might want to describe a situation where you have received an email from someone. To do so, you could say:

  • I have gotten an email from Sam.

You can use this phrase to describe receiving all sorts of things. This phrase can describe receiving or coming into possession of something. Here are some examples of how you might do that:

  • I have gotten a new bike.
  • She has gotten a cold.
  • He has gotten the point.

Not all of the above examples are about physical objects. The second is about becoming sick, while the last describes understanding a concept or “point.” In each, someone has obtained something they did not have before: a bike, a virus, or an idea.

“Gotten” often functions as a transitive verb, meaning that it needs something to receive the action. In the case of “gotten,” the object is the thing that the subject has received or obtained (source).

Take the following sentence:

  • Bob has gotten the check.

In this sentence, the check is the object. That is, the check is the thing being “gotten.” This is a typical way of using “gotten.” For example, if you were to say, “I have gotten,” your audience might respond with, “You have gotten what?” This is because “gotten” usually takes an object.

Using “Gotten” in “Gotten Along”

You can also use “gotten” in the phrase “have gotten along.” As we said before, there are at least a couple of different ways to use this phrase. The first is to describe how two or more people might relate to one another well.

Here’s an example of this use of “gotten along”:

  • Sam and Jean have gotten along this time.

This example means that these two people, Sam and Jean, have maintained a good relationship, perhaps in contrast to other times they interacted.

You can use “gotten” as a part of the phrase “gotten along,” which can have at least a couple of different meanings. First, it can mean “to be cordial with,” as it does in this example:

  • Ali and Evvy have gotten along well.

It can also mean “to manage,” as it does here:

  • I have gotten along just fine without my phone today.

What Can You Use Instead of “Gotten”?

There are quite a few words that you might use instead of “gotten.” One such synonym is “received.” You can use it for any of the instances where “gotten” means “to come into possession of something” (source).

Take this sentence, for example:

  • I have gotten a letter.

You could say instead:

  • I have received a letter.

These two sentences mean the same thing. Other words you might use instead of “gotten” are “obtained,” “acquired,” or “gained.” These words are not perfect synonyms of “gotten,” so you will need to consult a dictionary to ensure they are the right word for the sentence.

As we have said, in British contexts, you will want to use “got” instead of “gotten.” Again, this will sound more natural to those accustomed to British English.

“Gotten” as a Part of Other Words

The word “gotten” is a part of some hyphenated words. These words are typically adjectives that describe how a person obtained a thing. These hyphenated words include “ill-gotten” and “self-gotten.”

For instance, you might say something is “ill-gotten” to describe a thing that someone achieved dishonestly (source).

  • He hid his ill-gotten gains under the floorboards.

You might also want to say “self-gotten” to describe something that a person acquired by themselves (source). For example:

  • He paid for this with his self-gotten fortune.

Both “ill-gotten” and “self-gotten” are adjectives describing how something came into a person’s possession, so they contain the word “gotten” in them.

Formal vs. Informal English

While “gotten” is correct, with formal situations, you should use “have” instead of “have gotten.” Most would consider using the phrase “have gotten” to mean “to have” as informal, so you should avoid it in professional or academic writing (source).

Both formal and informal language have their place. Formal English sounds more professional but less personable. Informal English sounds more casual, but we would not consider it appropriate for most business or academic communication (source).

Image by Sydney Rae on Unsplash

Verb Tense and Participles

American English uses both “got” and “gotten.” While Americans use “gotten” for the past participle, they use “got” for the simple past tense. There are some important differences between past participles and the past tense.

The past participle can go with “have” or “had” to form the present and past perfect tenses. However, you would not use a participle by itself as a verb. For example, you would not say, “I gotten.” Instead, you need a helping verb to make the verb tense.

On the other hand, the past tense is a verb that shows that an action occurred in the past. If you say that you “got” something, you are describing a past action of receiving something. Also, unlike “gotten,” “got” does not need a helping verb — “I got it,” for example.

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If you want to learn more about past participles and how they differ from the past tense, check out our article “Eaten or Ate: Past Tense vs. Past Participle.”

Final Thoughts

The word “gotten” is prevalent in American English, so it is essential to learn how to use it correctly. If you can use “gotten” correctly, you will be able to employ it in various contexts, whether describing how you received something or using it in idioms.

If you follow this article, you will not only know how to use “gotten,” but where. As we have said, while “gotten” is correct in America, British English speakers typically say “got” for the past participle. Knowing the difference will help you to use “gotten” correctly.