Got or Gotten?

by Craig Shrives

What Is the Difference between "Got" and "Gotten"?

"Got" and "gotten" are easy to confuse because the rules on which to use are not simple. If you are following UK writing conventions, the matter is simple because Brits do not use "gotten."
got or gotten?

Warning

Before you choose between "got" and "gotten," ask yourself this: Is there a better word (e.g., obtained, acquired, has, owns, must)?

If there is, use it. "Got" and "gotten" are not usually suitable for formal writing.

More about "Got" and "Gotten"

Let's start by looking at the verb "to get":
InfinitivePresent TensePast TensePast Participle
  • to get
  • get
  • gets
  • got
  • have/has/had got
  • have/has/had gotten
  • Here is a comparison with the verb "to eat":
    InfinitivePresent TensePast TensePast Participle
  • to eat
  • eat
  • eats
  • ate
  • have/has/had eaten
  • Notice that "to get" has two versions of the past participle (the version used after "have," "has," or "had"). The "gotten" version is not used in the UK.

    It is fairly accurate to say that Americans use "gotten" for the past participle, while "got" is used by those following UK writing conventions. However, this is not the whole story because, depending on the meaning, Americans also use "got" for the past participle. For example, when "got" is used for ownership or to mean "must," then Americans use "got" not "gotten."

    More about "Gotten"

    In the US, "have/has/had gotten" (i.e., the past participle) is used to show the process of obtaining something. For example:
    • John has gotten her a ring. ()
    • (Here, John has obtained a ring. Often, "gotten" can be replaced with "obtained.")
    In the US, "have/has/had gotten" is also used to mean "has become." For example:
    • Janet has gotten angry. ()
    • (Here, Janet has become angry. Often, "gotten" can be replaced with "become.")
    The term "have/has/had gotten" is not used in the UK nowadays, but "gotten" still features in some old terms like "ill-gotten gains."
    • John has gotten her a ring. ()
    • John has got her a ring. ()
    • (The British use "got" where Americans would use "gotten.")

    More about "Got"

    The term "have/has/had got" is used in the US and the UK to show ownership. For example:
    • John has got a ring. ( and )
    • (This means John owns a ring.)
    The term "have/has/had got" is used in the US and the UK in the term "got to," which means "must." For example:
    • John has got to improve. ( and )
    • (This means John must improve.)

    Is "Got" or "Gotten" Right for You?

    Before you decide whether you should be using "got" or "gotten," you should ask yourself a different question: Should I be using "to get" at all?

    The verb "to get" is more common in speech than in writing. For written work, there is always a more appropriate alternative.

    More Examples with "Got" and "Gotten"

    Here are some more examples with "got" and "gotten" with a more acceptable alternative.

    "Got" Meaning "Obtained"

    • She has gotten a pet spider.
    • She has got a pet spider.
    Here is a more acceptable alternative for formal written work:
    • She has obtained a pet spider.

    "Got" Meaning "Become"

    • She has gotten flustered.
    • She has got flustered.
    Here is a more acceptable alternative for formal written work:
    • She has become flustered.

    "Got To" Meaning "Must"

    With the term "got to" (meaning "must"), Americans use "got" not "gotten." For example:
    • I have got to leave soon.
    • (This means "I must leave soon.")
    • I have got to leave soon.
    Here is a more acceptable alternative for formal written work:
    • I must leave soon.

    "Got" for Ownership

    When "got" means "have," Americans use "got" not "gotten." For example:
    • She has got a pet spider.
    • (This means "She has a pet spider.")
    • She has got a pet spider.
    • (Notice that, in British English, this is the same as the "She has obtained a pet spider" version.)
    Here is a more acceptable alternative for formal written work:
    • She has a pet spider.

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    See Also

    adverse or averse? affect or effect? appraise or apprise? avenge or revenge? bare or bear? complement or compliment? dependant or dependent? discreet or discrete? disinterested or uninterested? e.g. or i.e.? envy or jealousy? imply or infer? its or it's? material or materiel? poisonous or venomous? practice or practise? principal or principle? tenant or tenet? who's or whose? Jewelry and jewellry List of easily confused words

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