How English Thinks


Please join me in welcoming Liam Hickey to Keys to Easy Writing as a contributor to our ESL Corner. Liam is an ESL Teacher with Corporate English currently living in the Guadalajara area of Mexico. Via Willpower Careers, Liam also works as a career coach, writing résumés as well as doing some technical writing and editing. He graduated from the University of Maryland in 1995 with a Bachelor’s in German.

English Verb: To Have

I recently started learning Spanish. In one of my lessons, the instructor identified two things that Spanish speakers use often to express their ideas: truth and beauty.

This made me think about English in a similar way. English speakers often express ideas in terms of possession: we have it.

Students of English will notice how often English uses the word get and have. Less common but similar is catch. Other frequent words are give and take, which also indicate possession. Here are some different meanings of these various verbs:


  • To obtain
  • To understand
  • To become
  • To be permitted


  • To possess
  • To be obliged or required


  • To grab
  • To capture
  • To become infected with


  • To obtain
  • To accept
  • To suffer (consequences)
  • To do / make (take a vacation / trip, take photographs)
  • To use (take medication)

English uses get and catch in phrasal verbs:


  • Get up = to stand or to wake
  • Get down = to descend (from high) or to dance [slang]
  • Get over = to come (to a place) or to recover from
  • Get under = to crawl beneath
  • Get into = to become involved / interested in
  • Get in = to go / come inside
  • Get out = to retrieve (from storage) or to leave
  • Get with = to join


  • Catch up = to move faster (towards things ahead)
  • Catch on = to become popular
  • Catchy (adjective) = marketable / appealing to many


  • Give in or give up = to surrender / submit
  • Give out = to distribute


  • Take on = to accept responsibility
  • Take off = to depart (especially airplanes) or to remove
  • Take out = to remove from or to go on a date (as host)
  • Take-out (noun) = food brought home from a restaurant
  • Take in = to shelter (a person in a home) or to absorb
  • Take over = to obtain control

Even when a word can be a verb, we sometimes precede it with possession, as in:

  • Give it a try.
  • Give me a call.
  • Take a drive.

We also take things for granted, meaning we do not appreciate them. Or we, give him a break, when we are kind or lenient towards others. We even take a … uh … bathroom stuff, even though we really just leave it all in the toilet.

Often in English, we possess things, we accept things, we obtain things, even when we are those things.

… and people wonder why Americans have so much stuff.


  1. Erin Chandler says

    Interesting observations!

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