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The Phrasal Verb 'Get Down' Explained

Updated: Dec 18, 2023

An explanation of the different meanings of the English phrasal verb 'get down', with examples and exercises.

Some people getting down and dancing outside with a guitar

Hello and welcome to my website all about English phrasal verbs. Each week, I take a different phrasal verb and look at how it is used by native speakers, with a focus on the different meanings that it has and the expressions and idioms that it is used in.


This post is all about the phrasal verb 'get down', which is great phrasal verb to have in your active vocabulary and has various different meanings that sometimes contradict one another, such as feeling depressed and dancing wildly and enjoying yourself. Read on to find out the different ways that the phrasal verb 'get down' is used in English....


GET DOWN: KEY INFORMATION

Usage

Common

Number of meanings

8

Separable

Yes - sometimes

Past tense forms

Got down / Got down / Gotten down (US)

British or American?

Both

For more explanation of the terms in the table above, click here.

 

THE BASICS

The letters ABC written on a blackboard with some chalk sticks and books in the foreground

Let's start this post in the normal way and consider the constituent words 'get' and 'down', as this is a great way to gain some insight into some of the phrasal verb meanings that we will look at shortly.


Firstly, we have the favourite verb of native English speakers, 'to get', which has an extensive number of meanings and applications in English. There is not enough time or space in this post to cover all of them, however the most relevant meanings for the phrasal verb 'get down' are the meanings 'to arrive at a place' and 'to become'.


The prepositional particle 'down' is one used regularly in phrasal verb constructions and is used to denote a low or lower position, usually relative to the speaker, or movement towards a low position when used as an adverb. In addition to this meaning, 'down' can also be used in a plethora of different ways, such as to describe something negative like depression or sadness and something that is recorded in written form.


Now that we have covered the basics, let's move on to the different meanings of the phrasal verb 'get down'....

 

MEANING 1: To move from a higher place to a lower place


CEFR Language Level

A2 - Elementary

Usage

Common

British or American

Both

Potential synonyms

To get off, to dismount, to descend

The first meaning of the phrasal verb 'get down' that we will look at is one that I think is closest to a literal meaning and that is 'to move from a higher position to the floor or a lower position'.


This meaning is all about movement from a high place to a lower place, with the focus being on 'arriving' in the lower position. This can be used with many different nouns and typically you would hear this with words like horse, mountain, tree and roof - in other words, anything that a person or thing can go up and sit or stand on.


Sometimes we also add the additional adverb 'back' between 'get' and 'down' to emphasise that the descent to the ground is a return journey.


Examples of usage....

Whilst we were climbing the mountain, it started to get very foggy and we were not sure how we were going to get down.
A cat stuck up a tree
When you get down to the ground floor, please can you ask the concierge to call me.
My cat climbed the tree in my garden and was so scared by how high he was that he could not get back down again.

So far with this meaning, we have talked about 'get down' to mean 'to move to a lower place' without a direct object (intransitively), however we can also use it with a direct object. This is for when we want to move something from a high place to a lower place, similar to the phrasal verb 'take down' that I have recently also written about. Often, we use 'get down' instead of 'take down' when there is a level of difficulty or challenge to the action of getting something down e.g. if something is stuck in a place.


Typically, this transitive use of 'get (something) down' is for when we need to move something that is stored in a high place, such as a shelf or an attic down to ground level.


A cat in a fireman's arms

Examples of usage....

In the end, we had to call the fire brigade to come and get the cat down from the tree.
I'm just going to go into the attic to get my suitcase down.
John's kite flew away and ended up stuck in a tree and he could not get it back down again.
 

MEANING 2: To lower oneself to the floor


CEFR Language Level

B1 - Intermediate

Usage

Common

British or American?

Both

Potential synonyms

To lower yourself, to duck

For the second meaning of 'get down', we are going to stay with the same idea of moving to a lower position from a high one, however this time we are talking about when you lower your body so that you are closer to the ground.


This would typically be when you lower yourself from a standing position to be on your knees, to be on your hands and knees or to be in a lying down position. You may be familiar with the expression 'to get down on all fours', which means to lower your body onto your two hands and two knees.


Moreover, 'get down!' can also be used in an imperative form. This could be when commanding someone to remove themselves from a high place (as per the previous section) or it can also mean to move your body closer to the floor, possibly to hide yourself or to avoid something dangerous.


Examples of usage....

There was an emergency and everybody had to get down on the floor and lie flat.
For this next yoga position, you will need to get down on your hands and knees.
Get down! People will be able to see you if you are standing up and it will ruin the surprise!
 

MEANING 3: To depress someone


CEFR Language Level

B2 - Upper intermediate

Usage

Medium

British or American

Both

Potential synonyms

To get depressed

If you are familiar with the song Rainy Days & Mondays by The Carpenters, and the lyric "rainy days and Mondays always get me down", then you will already have a good idea of what this third application of 'get down' means. If not, then the meaning is to make someone feel sad, unhappy, depressed or demoralised.


This usage is a direct combination of the meaning of the verb 'to get' as in 'to become' and the adjectival meaning of the word 'down' to mean 'sad'. It is mainly used by people to describe when they experience temporary periods in their life when they feel sad or low.


Grammatically, we use 'get down' without a direct object when we feel sad or unhappy about something, without explicitly stating a cause. Furthermore, it is also possible for something to get you down, for example rainy days and Mondays, and in this case the sad or depressed person becomes the direct object of the sentence.


Examples of usage....

I always get down in winter. I think it is something to do with the lack of sunlight.
Like everyone, Helen gets down from time to time, but in general she is a happy person.
If I spend too much time thinking about my relatives who have died, it gets me down.
 

MEANING 4: To write something


CEFR Language Level

B2 - Upper intermediate

Usage

Medium

British or American

Both

Potential synonyms

To take down, to note down, to write down

The fourth meaning of 'get down' is to write something down, so that it is recorded and can be referred back to at a future time. This is, in fact, a synonym of the phrasal verb 'take down' that I have also recently written about (click here to read it).


With 'get down' in this sense, the meaning of 'down' that is relevant is the meaning 'to record something in written form', with the verb 'to get' adding the idea of completing the action of transferring the information to a written record.


Grammatically, this meaning of 'get down' takes a direct object and can therefore be separated without changing the meaning and we tend to use the separable version more. Moreover, this application of 'get down' is often followed by the words 'on paper'.


Examples of usage....

Did you get all of the key information in the speech down?
I managed to get the person's telephone number down before the line cut out.
The author spent half an hour getting the details of her dream down on paper as she wanted to include them in her next book.
 

MEANING 5: To swallow food, drink or medication



CEFR Language Level

C1 - Advanced

Usage

Medium

British or American

Both

Potential synonyms

To swallow, to gulp down

The fifth meaning of 'get down' is 'to swallow food, drink or medication, often when the swallowing action is performed with some difficulty.


For this usage, the 'down' meaning is quite clear as it is the direction that something swallowed goes in and the function of 'to get' is to add the idea of completing the action, especially when there is some difficulty involved. This difficulty may come from the person swallowing who may have a sore throat or a medical issue, or it may come from the thing that the person is swallowing, i.e. something tough, chewy or bad tasting.


An informal expression that people sometimes use, especially in British English, 'get it / this down your neck!', which is used as an encouragement or invitation to someone to eat or drink something,


Examples of usage....

The tablets that I have to take are enormous and I have great difficulty getting them down.
We quickly got our lunch down and then went back to work.
You look really cold. Here, get this cup of tea down your neck. It will warm you up in no time.

The word BONUS spelled out using different coloured balloons being held up by different hands

BONUS INFORMATION

Whilst we are on the subject of food and drink, you should also know that we use 'get down' to talk about when we spill food and drink on our clothes or our bodies when eating and drinking. If you get something down yourself, it means that you have dropped some food or drink on your clothes and it will probably leave a stain.


Example of usage....

You're such a messy eater! You've got half of your dinner down yourself.
 

MEANING 6: To focus on something and start doing it


CEFR Language Level

B2 - Upper Intermediate

Usage

Medium

British or American?

Both

Potential synonyms

To focus, to start

For this sixth meaning of 'get down' we require the additional preposition 'to'. When you 'get down to something', it means that you start to focus on something and start doing it.

This is normally used for activities which involve a lot of attention or concentration and so it is something that you will often tend to hear in the business world.


Examples of usage....

Come on everyone, we've wasted enough time. Let's get down to work.
We finally got down to talking about the recent problems that have affected our co-operation and we seem to have resolved them.
The word BONUS spelled out by different coloured balloons being held up by different hands

Whilst we are on this meaning of 'get down', there is a very common expression that I want to make you aware that fits in nicely here....


Get down to business - I am sure many of you will already be familiar with this expression as it used a lot, both in business English and in general English.'To get down to business' means to stop making small talk and to start talking about the subject that needs to be discussed. As you can imagine, this is commonly used at the start of meetings and is regularly prefixed with the word 'let's'.


Example of usage....

Ok, now that everyone is here, let's get down to business!
 

MEANING 7: To dance


CEFR Language Level

C1 - Advanced

Usage

Medium

British or American?

American

Potential synonyms

To dance, to party

Our seventh usage of 'get down' is an informal one to mean 'to dance', often in an energetic or uninhibited way'. It can also be used to mean to have fun, relax and enjoy yourself, however it is used far less in this way.


This is primarily an American usage, however it is known and used in British English too, particularly since it has been featured in many pop and dance songs over the last forty years. The origins of this particular usage date back to the 1970s and is another example of a word that has entered the English language from African American slang.


Examples of usage....

I saw you and your friends getting down on the dance floor last night. It looked like you were having a lot of fun.
Come on everybody, let me see you all get down to this next song!
 

The word BONUS spelled out by different coloured balloons being held up by different hands

IDIOM ALERT!!

Three brass tacks

The idiom 'to get down to brass tacks' is an expression which means 'to start talking about the basic and most important facts about something', i.e. the things that people really want to discuss in a situation. This idiom first arose in American English in the late 1800s and has since spread across the Atlantic. Despite the strangeness of the idiom, nobody knows exactly what its origins are.


Example of usage....

The diplomats didn't spend long making small talk in the meeting and quickly got down to brass tacks.
 

A COUPLE OF FINAL MEANINGS...


Ok, so before I finish this post, there is one more meaning of 'get down' that I want to tell you about. '


To get something down' is an idiomatic expression that is becoming more and more common in modern English vernacular and means 'to master something and be able to do it very well or perfectly'. If you've got something down, it means that you are skilled at doing something.


Examples of usage....

I was terrible at this computer game when I first started playing it but now I've got it down!
Wow, you're amazing at that, you've got it down!
 

Question marks in different coloured overlapping speech marks on a black background

EXERCISE Re-write the following sentences using 'to get down'....

  1. For this next yoga position, you need to lower yourself onto the floor and lie on your front with your hands stretched out in front of you.

  2. I feel depressed from time to time during the winter.

  3. Despite her sore throat, Helen managed to eat the soup that Roger had made for her.

  4. Ok we let's start to focus on the subject in question and start work.

  5. I managed to write down all of the journalists' comments during the press conference.

  6. Lisa and Jenny are dancing madly on the dance floor.

The answers will be available on next week's post.

 

EXERCISE ANSWERS FROM 'RIP OFF' (other variations may be possible)

  1. It was December 1, so I RIPPED the November page OFF my calendar.

  2. Sometimes you just have to grit your teeth and RIP OFF the band aid.

  3. The two boys ran into the clothes shop and RIPPED OFF $100 worth of shirts.

  4. John realised that he had been RIPPED OFF when buying his new television when he learned that Roger had bought the same model at half the price.

  5. The singer has obviously RIPPED OFF the other singer's song but refused to admit it when they were asked about it.

  6. I am not paying that much! That is a RIPOFF!

 

That is the end of today's post. Thank you so much for taking the time to read it and I sincerely hope that it has helped you a little bit further on your English learning journey.


If you found the post useful, please like and share it on social media, so together we can help as many English learners as possible to understand and master these tricky phrasal verbs.


Also, please leave any comments, questions, suggestions or examples of 'get down' below. I really love reading them. If you want to receive new blog posts directly email every week, please sign up on the form below. See you next time! James





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