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4 Comments

  • Overheard in a pub on the Isle of Skye a few years ago. A large group of Australian walkers comes in out of the pouring rain, muddy boots and all. One asks the barman: “Can I get a Coke?”, to which he replies: “No, but I can bring you one.” @lexicoj0hn

  • You said that if we say “Can I get a coffee?” would suggest that we want to make it ourselves, but if we say “I got a present on my birthday” it doesn’t mean that we made this present but that it was given to us by someone else. So how is it different?

  • Good point LInka, but the sentence “I got a present on my birthday” suggests that the recipient doesn’t have much control over what the present actually is (or indeed whether a present is even given). I don’t think a British child could ask their parents “Can I get a new bike for my birthday?” ; they would have to say “Can I have…?” or “Will you give me…?”

    So, with your coffee example, to British ears it could sound, not like a request, but an enquiry as to whether it is possible to receive coffee, among other things, in this establishment. However, in such a case, we would normally expect an adjunct of place, eg. “Can I get a coffee *here*?”

    Since the adjunct of place is absent, the hearer looks for other meanings of ‘get’, realistically possible in this context, that take a simple direct object without an adjunct. And the meaning that best fits the bill is ‘fetch’.

    Of course, all this is very pedantic, and the barman in my previous comment knew perfectly well what the customer wanted. However, this use of ‘get’ is relatively new in British English, and some older people will interpret it as an unwelcome Americanism. Hence the irritation.