Translating "get" into German

The modest little verb get is often criticised by pedants. There are certainly alternatives to it, but the truth is that few English speakers could get through the day without using “to get”. My Oxford dictionary states that “get” is one of the five most common verbs in the language. This pithy, punchy little word and its related expressions are blunt, racy, direct, earthy and occasionally vulgar. As a result of its myriad meanings, get can be problematic for the English learner of German.

If you use “get” in expressions such as “get into hot water”, “get over it” or “that really gets to me”, you will naturally find  yourself propping when you try to express something similar in a German conversation. The reason is that the ideas that English speakers can convey with the single verb “get” require many different verbs in German. One of the trickiest aspects of learning German (apart from the endings, the cases and everything else) is the precision of its verbs.

• to get cold feet → kalte Füße bekommen

Below are some examples that will both illustrate how complex it is to translate “to get” and reveal many of the German verbs that are essential to this task. I’ve started  by focusing on the alternative meaning of “to get” in English and have worked from there towards an idiomatic German translation. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but there are also some quizzes and options below through which you can encounter more examples and get a feel for some of the most common verbs that you will require in German to represent this compact, multifaceted English verb.

She always gets an A+ in Maths – Sie bekommt immer ein A+ in Mathe.

When to get means to receive

  • She always gets good grades. – Sie bekommt immer gute Noten.
  • Did she get the invitation? – Hat sie die Einladung bekommen?

When to get means to buy, to procure, to gain or to arrange something

  • I’d like to get myself a new car. – Ich möchte mir ein neues Auto kaufen.
  • I need to get an overview of the situation. – Ich muss mir einen Überblick der Situation verschaffen.
  • Can you get me a ticket? – Kannst du mir eine Karte besorgen?
  • Don’t forget to get some bread. – Vergiss  nicht, Brot zu kaufen.

When to get means to fetch or to bring back

  • Can you please get me a coffee? – Kannst du mir bitte einen Kaffee holen?
  • Can I get you anything in the city? – Kann ich dir etwas aus der Stadt mitbringen?
I don’t get it. → Ich verstehe das nicht.

When to get means to understand, to grasp or to comprehend

  • I get what you’re saying. – Ich verstehe, was du meinst.
  • I just don’t get it. – Ich verstehe das nicht OR Ich kapier[e] das nicht.
  • You just don’t get it, do you? – Du kapierst es nicht, oder? OR Du begreifst es nicht, oder?
She’s getting tired.→ Sie wird müde.

When to get means to become
• It’s getting dark. – Es wird dunkel.   
• I’m getting old. – Ich werde [langsam] alt.
• After her illness she got quite thin. – Nach ihrer Krankheit wurde sie ziemlich dünn.

When to get means to do a task or complete something

  • Can you get the phone? – Kannst du den Hörer abnehmen?
  • Can you get the door? – Kannst du die Tür aufmachen?
  • She’s getting the dinner at the moment. – Sie macht gerade das Abendessen. 
Can you get through to him? → Kannst du ihn erreichen?

When to get means to reach someone

  • I can’t get hold of him (on the phone). – Ich kann ihn nicht erreichen.
  • You can get me at this number. – Du kannst mich unter dieser Nummer erreichen.

When to get means to begin or start something

  • We got talking one evening. – Wir haben angefangen, eines Abends zu sprechen.
  • I haven’t got very far yet. – Ich bin noch nicht sehr weit gekommen.
  • He got to his feet with difficulty. – Er ist mit Schwierigkeit aufgestanden.
That gets to me.→ Das irritiert mich OR Das geht mir auf die Nerven.

When get is used to express frustration or disappointment

  • That really gets to me. – Das ärgert mich wirklich OR Das geht mir auf die Nerven.
  • That really gets me down. – Das deprimiert mich OR Das macht mich wirklich traurig.

When get has the sense of providing an opportunity

  • I get to practise my German with Moni. – Ich kann mein Deutsch mit Moni zu üben.

Some Selected Expressions:

  • He’ll never get over it. – Er wird nie darüber hinwegkommen
  • My son keeps getting into trouble. – Mein Sohn bekommt ständig Ärger.
  • We get along well. – Wir verstehen uns gut OR Wir kommen gut aus.
  • Let’s get down to work. – Lasst uns an die Arbeit gehen!
  • I really got a kick out of that. – Ich hatte großen Spaß daran.
  • I’m getting cold feet. – Ich bekomme kalte Füße.
  • You always get me to laugh. – Du bringst mich immer zum Lachen.

A Resource for Intermediate Learners
How to translate “to put” – another puny but crucial English verb
A Quiz for Advanced Learners
This quiz offers many more examples of translating the verb “get” into German| Complete on the full screen

A Useful Resource

  • Linguee – This online phrase dictionary is ideal for identifying an idiomatic translation of an expression or a phrase. 
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