To get or to become?

How to get it right?

Considering that I’m a native English speaker and English teacher, many of my German friends come to me when they have questions about English. Usually, their questions can be resolved quickly. For example, a friend might ask, “How do you say ‘Tisch’ in English?”

“Table,” I’ll speedily reply.

 

But sometimes, a friend comes to me with a very difficult question, one that really makes me think. Such was the case the other day when a pal asked me about the word “bekommen.” More specifically, she said, “Chad, I know that ‘bekommen’ means ‘get,’ as in ‘to get a gift.’ But what about, ‘Your food is getting cold.’ Is that also ‘bekommen’?”

Hmm...good question.

 

It took me some time, but I eventually realized that my friend had fallen into something I’ll call the “bekommen/werden/get/becoming” trap, a trap from which one can’t easily escape without some serious help. So let’s have a look at the language.

 

First off, to answer my friend’s question, yes, it is absolutely fine to say, “Your food is getting cold.”

Still, considering that it can be difficult to understand what the English equivalents of “bekommen” and “werden” are, let’s have a deeper look at these words and their meanings.

 

Bekommen”

All “bekommen” means is “to get,” or “to receive.”

“Ich bekomme ein Auto”: “I am getting a car.”

“Jeden Tag bekomme ich Post”: “Every day I get mail.”

 

“Werden”

“Werden,” however, is used when the state of something changes.

“Eine Raupe wird zum Schmetterling”: “A caterpillar becomes a butterfly.”

“Gestern wurde er Papa!”: “Yesterday he became a father!”

 

The difference between the two verbs is pretty clear. But on seldom occasions, things can start to get really confusing. That’s because sometimes “werden” can be translated into English as either “become” or “get.”

 

For example:

“Der Planet wird wärmer”:

          “The planet is becoming warmer” or

          “The planet is getting warmer.”

 

“Das Essen wird kalt.”

          “The food is becoming cold” or

          “The food is getting cold.”

 

Dein Cousin wird dicker.

          “Your cousin is becoming fatter” or

          “Your cousin is getting fatter.”

 

“Become” and “get,” in the sense that the state of something is changing, can be used interchangeably when there is a way back from the change.

 

For example, “Your cousin is getting fatter.” He could get thinner again -- there is a way back from the change. Therefore, it’s OK to say either, “Your cousin is getting fatter” or “Your cousin is becoming fatter.”

“The food is getting cold.” It is possible to warm it up again. Therefore, just like with the previous example, it’s OK to say, “The food is getting cold” or “The food is becoming cold.”

 

However, when there is no way back from the change that has taken place -- it has happened or been achieved and can’t be undone -- we can only use “become”:

 

“The caterpillar became a butterfly.”

“Yesterday, he became a father.”

“The star became a black hole.”

 

So there it is. Tricky, I know. But with a little practice, we can master these concepts and sound like a real English speaker.

 

Weitere Artikel von Chad Smith:

Differences in American and German thinking Explained using a birthday song

Americaner sehen die Welt etwas anders als die Deutschen. Am Beispiel eines Geburtstagsliedes wird dieses hier dargestellt.

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How have you been? English pleasantries: Part 2

Teil zwei der "englischen Höflichkeiten" befasst sich mit einer weiteren Frage nach dem Befinden, dieses Mal allerdings nicht nach dem aktuellen oder vergangenen, sondern nach dem Verlauf des Geschehens: "How have you been?"

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Negative questions in English - And how to respond correctly -

Die englische Sprache hat so manche Fallstricke für uns Deutschen. Wie Sie mit der oft im Englischen verwendeten negative Fragestellung  umgehen, lesen Sie hier.

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Vorschaubild Negative questions in English



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