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How to Learn Confusing Words in English

Kevin Naglich
Founder, Deliberate English

When you see English words with a ton of uses like wouldtake, or get you probably wonder if it's even possible to learn English. After all, if just one word is this complex, there's too much to learn. 

That said, nobody is going to master a word with a dozen usages overnight or by memorizing definitions from a dictionary. 🤓 

My advice to learn confusing words is to start to notice how native speakers use them. To notice words that you're uncomfortable with, you need more than passive listening. When you listen passively to a TV show, your brain ignores words that you don't understand. 

On the other hand, active listening is a perfect way to help you start to pay more attention. In this video, I'll show you how to start noticing confusing words and what to do once you find them so that you can use them more naturally. 

To help us with this exercise, we'll listen to clips from an episode of the All Ears English podcast. Below are the categories of get that we'll practice in more detail in the video.

CAUSING ACTIONS WITH GET

Here's an excerpt from the podcast:

And, uh, we used to play that, and my friends would always laugh because they would get me to scream and things like that, but it was funny.

To fully understand what's happening, let's simplify this sentence: 

My friends would laugh because they would get me to scream.

Get, plus an object (something like a car, it, or me) and an infinitive (which are verbs with the to like to go or to do) is a great casual way to say "make a person or a thing do something." In other words, you're forcing or encouraging action.

When Michelle says that "my friends would get me to scream," that means that her friends used to make her scream in the past.

OBTAINING STUFF WITH GET

Here's another excerpt:

I've been learning English for many years, and I know there's formal and informal English, I do get that, but when it comes to card games, it's like a whole other language.

Here, Lindsay is reading a question from a listener who says that despite studying English for years, playing card games is challenging. The listener "gets" that there are different forms of English, but is frustrated that games seem like another language entirely.

This is one of the more straightforward uses of get. It means to understand something.

When we use get + a noun or pronoun, it usually means obtaining or receiving something. There can be slight variations depending on what the noun is, such as understanding where you can think of it like we are obtaining or receiving an understanding of something.

PHRASAL VERBS WITH GET

Consider this sentence:

I feel like games are so huge. So, we are gonna get into this today. I was really excited when I saw this question. It's a lot of fun.

Simplifying the sentence, we see: 

We are going to get into it today.

Generally, if we use get + prepositions or adverbs like up, away, out, into it means it's a phrasal verb. Normally, phrasal verbs with get talk about movement. 

For example, If you tell someone to get out, it means you want them to leave.

Get up can mean to stop sleeping and get out of your bed in the morning.

Get into the car means enter the car.

Unfortunately, as is usually the case with phrasal verbs, sometimes the meaning is totally different.

In this case, it's pretty clear from the context that Michelle isn't talking about physically entering inside of a topic. The way she's using get into means to start to discuss something.

PASSIVE ACTIONS WITH GET

Check out this next excerpt:

What can our listeners do, you know, starting this week if they, you know, if they regularly get invited to game nights, and you don't want to turn it down.

Get + a past participle, something like invited, paid, asked, etc., is a passive way of talking about events that happen that you weren't expecting or are outside of your control.

A great example is talking about getting money from your job. Your job pays you. It's something that happens to you that you don't directly control.

Lindsay is wondering how she can help listeners who get invited to game nights. 

This means that these listeners are invited to game nights, whether they want it or not. Somebody else is inviting them, so it is not something they control.

BECOMING WITH GET

Here's one last excerpt:

And then, last but not least, don't get frustrated. Try to, I mean, it's, you, it's really hard to learn in like a week all the cultural nuances that could come up in this game.

When we use get plus an adjective, it typically means to become that adjective.

If I get angry, it means I'm becoming angry. If I get cold, it means I'm becoming cold.

In the podcast, we hear "don't get frustrated", which means don't become frustrated. 

SUMMARY

You'll find more expressions with get like get away with or get down in the video.

By the way, there are even more uses than what we covered here. The idea of this exercise is to help you notice get in what you hear native speakers say. 

When you do notice it, ask yourself, "Is this a use that I'm comfortable with, or one that confuses me?" If it confuses you, it'll be time to dig into the details once again. 😁

I want to give a special thanks to the All Ears English podcast for letting me use their content in this video.

All Ears English is an excellent resource for intermediate and advanced English students like you that talks about American culture, customs, business English, life in America, and provides guidance on how to use everyday English vocabulary and expressions.

You can find them on iTunes and Apple Podcasts, Stitcher radio, or download their app directly from the Apple app store.

See you soon!

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