Improve your knowledge of English verbs and learn to use the verbs ‘become’, ‘get’, ‘grow’, ‘go’, and ‘turn’ with ease and confidence.

Verbs illustration

Most ESL learners have a tough time understanding the subtle differences in meaning between the English verbs becomegetgrowgo, and turn in situations where these verbs are used to talk about changes, so certain questions arise. Do become and get mean the same? What is the difference between grow and turn? Can turn be replaced with go in every situation? And so on …

The differences between these verbs are a bit complicated—they depend partly on grammar, partly on meaning and partly on fixed usage—and should be studied with great care.

Become and Get

The verbs become (to start to be) and get (to start to be) can both indicate change or development. Become is more formal and is often used in writing; get is informal and is usually used in conversation.

  • As Ozzy became older, he could no longer play his electric guitar.
  • As Ozzy got older, he could no longer play his electric guitar.
  • Rita became angry when Jack ended their relationship.
  • Rita got angry when Jack dumped her.

When become and get indicate change or development, they can be followed by adjectives :

become/get + adjective

  • She becomes/gets really upset (adj.) whenever her husband stays out late.

When become indicates change or development, it can also be followed by nouns:

become + noun

  • She was only seventeen when she became a fashion model (noun).

You can’t say the following:

  • She was only seventeen when she got a fashion model.

Why is the above sentence incorrect? Get followed by a noun does not express change or development. When get is used with a noun (or pronoun), its meaning changes into ‘to obtain, to acquire, to receive, to fetch’. For example:

  • I got my first dog when I was in primary school.
  • Can I get you something to drink?

Grow

In written English, grow is sometimes used to mean ‘become’. It is used before adjectives especially to talk about slow and gradual changes. Grow is more formal than get. You can use this verb to say that someone or something gradually changes to a particular state or condition.

  • The sun grew so hot that they were forced to leave the beach.
  • When they grew rich, they stopped visiting their old friends.
  • As Dean grew older, he stopped driving racing cars.

Grow sounds literary; it can be replaced by become or get.

A note: Turn indicates a faster change than grow.

Go

Go can be used before adjectives to talk about change. It is used in many fixed expressions that refer to changes for the worse. For example, people go mad/blind/deaf/bald/crazy/grey/insane; meat, fish and vegetables go bad; milk goes off or sour; cheese goes mouldy; bread goes stale, and so on.

  • Oh no! The milk has gone off/sour in this heat!
  • At thirty he was already going bald.
  • His brother went insane.

As you can see, go is often used for changes in people’s personality or appearance.

Remember that get (and not go) is used with the adjectives oldtired and ill. For example:

  • I feel that I’m getting old.
  • The long flight got me tired.
  • I got ill while I was on holiday.

Go and Turn

Both go and turn can be used before adjectives to talk about change of colour. If you want to say that something becomes a different colour, you can use go or turnTurn is a bit more formal than go.

  • Leaves go / turn brown in autumn.
  • When the tomatoes go/turn red, my mother picks them and sells them.
  • The sky turned gold as the sun set.
  • Suddenly the sky went dark and it started to rain heavily.
  • Suddenly everything went / turned black and she lost consciousness.

If you want to say that a person’s face suddenly changes colour, you can also use the verbs go or turn.

  • He suddently went /turned bright red and ran out of the room.
  • She went /turned pale and started to shiver.

Please note that the verb go can also be used for slower colour changes.

  • The pages of the Bible have gone yellow over the years.

Turn

It has already been mentioned that the verb turn is common before colour words. It is less informal than the verb go. You can also use turn before numbers to talk about changes of age. For example:

  • I turned forty last week.

Turn can also be used before nouns to express metamorphosis.

  • My boyfriend is such a lovely man, but when he gets jealous he turns into a monster.
  • If you kiss the frog, it will turn into a prince.

Have you noticed the use of the preposition into in the above two sentences? This preposition is always used to show when a person or thing is changing from one form or condition to another.

Turn can also be used before a noun or an adjective to talk about a change of occupation, religion, and politics. In such cases, do not use a preposition or an article before a noun. For example:

  • He worked in a bank for ten years before turning painter.
  • At the end of her life she turned Catholic.
  • Towards the end of the war he turned traitor.

Most expressions in this article are basically collocations—pairs or groups of words that are often used together. These combinations sound natural to native speakers, but ESL learners have to make an effort to learn them by heart because they are difficult to guess.