‘Can I get some more paper?’
‘Yes, it’s on the table over there – help yourself.’
This would be an unremarkable question and answer pattern but the colleague who was asked this question by several native speakers of British English recently was the invigilator of an exam and certainly did not give that response! The expectation of ‘going and getting’ some more paper cannot have been in the students’ or the invigilator’s mind. So what the students meant was: ‘Can I have some more paper?’ (= I’d like to be given some more paper).
This use of ‘Can I get’ for ‘Can I have’ has become increasingly common in the younger age groups of British English speakers. I first remember noticing it in the late 1990s, when the Friends effect was strong in the UK. Now you will often hear someone asking ‘Can I get a coffee?’ or ‘Can I get an egg sandwich?’ at a takeaway counter. It is, of course, common in American English.
Both the UK and US versions of the Macmillan English Dictionary record the ‘Can I have’ formula for requests, giving it the specific context of polite requests for food and drink. They also both record the ‘go and bring back’ sense of ‘get’. But, in common with the most recently published ELT dictionaries, neither appears to show that ‘get’ is being used in requests for something to be given, in British English as well as American English.Email this Post