I've always understood "to get mad" to mean "to get (very) angry".

Checking the expression in online dictionaries, I've found the following definitions:

Don't get mad, get even, in Cambridge Dictionary, meaning: ​

  • something that you say in order to tell someone not to be angry when another person has upset them, but instead to do something that will upset that person very much.

    • This is my advice to wives whose husbands have left them for a younger woman - don't get mad, get even!

while the McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms says:

Get mad (at something):

  • to muster great physical strength and determination in order to do something.

    • You’re gonna have to get mad at it if you want to move it.

I could not find other definitions of "get mad" and the two stated above appear to convey different, though related, meanings.


Is "to get angry" the more common meaning of "get mad" both in BrE and AmE?

Is the connotation suggested in the second example only an AmE one?

  • 1
    You might want to give it a look: US usage of 'mad'.
    – Yuri
    Commented Oct 5, 2016 at 19:26
  • "Mad" meaning "insane" is fine in AmE, so you have understand the context to know which is meant. For example, "she's mad about that boy" (figuratively) implies "insane", while "don't make me mad" implies "angry". To "get mad" is to get angry, while to "go mad" is to go insane.
    – Andrew
    Commented Oct 5, 2016 at 19:37
  • @Andrew - I am aware of the different meanings and usages of "mad". My question is specific on "get mad" and the definitions I've found about it. Their meaning and usage both in AmE and BrE.
    – user5267
    Commented Oct 5, 2016 at 19:41
  • 1
    An absolute beginner is not able to write the kind of sentences you wrote in your question. Ergo, I doubt you are an "absolute beginner". And you say: I've always understood "to get mad" to mean..[...] So, that use of always and the present perfect also suggests you are not an absolute beginner. Get mad is not used in BrE to mean: get angry. They do say, however, to get cross. And in English, for insanity, it's GO: to go mad. You cannot get mad with the meaning of insanity in BrE or AmE.
    – Lambie
    Commented Oct 5, 2016 at 20:15
  • 1
    @Lambie I think the username was meant as an ironic, tongue-in-cheek epithet. It's not meant to be taken literally, as anyone can clearly see, the OP's command of English is definitely superior to that of a beginner! Or maybe the OP is a fan of David Bowie's music :)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 8:01

4 Answers 4


Anger: in BrE

to get cross; to get angry (among many others but not with get)

Anger: in AmE (among many others but not with get) to get mad, to get angry, to get cross

In both varieties of English: insanity is:

To go [become] mad but: to be mad in BrE means to be insane.

Whereas in AmE: to be mad means to be angry.

Minor point of slang:

in BrE, to get pissed means to get drunk. In AmE, to get pissed means to be angry.

I sincerely hope you do not get too confused. As you are most certainly not an absolute beginner, this stuff is right up your alley. :) PS: I am not pissed in either sense, BrE or AmE.

  • All the above is very interesting, but it does not really answer my question, which asks specifically about "get mad" meaning and usage in BrE and AmE.
    – user5267
    Commented Oct 5, 2016 at 20:30
  • Yes, it answers it. You have not read it carefully enough. There is no "get mad" in BrE. Ergo, there is no difference with AmE for the expression: to get mad meaning angry. Read it again. I went over and beyond what you asked. British people get angry or get cross.
    – Lambie
    Commented Oct 5, 2016 at 21:07
  • 1
    That is a mistake. The Brits would only say that if influenced by AmE. It simply is not BrE. Period. You are not looking in the right place: dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/mad That is BrE
    – Lambie
    Commented Oct 5, 2016 at 21:13
  • 1
    Mad, BrE: ​ A2 [ after verb ] informal very angry or annoyed: He's always complaining and it makes me so mad. mainly us Are you still mad at me? uk Kerry got really mad with Richard for not doing the washing up. uk Bill's untidiness drives me mad.
    – user5267
    Commented Oct 5, 2016 at 21:19
  • 2
    I suppose there are still some people living under rocks in the UK who have never had any influence from American literature, theatre, movies, TV, etc - but the rest of us aren't so dogmatic about what "isn't BrE".
    – alephzero
    Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 2:22

"Mad" has a number of meanings, the most common of which are "angry" and "insane". I think the other definition that you found, "to muster great physical strength", is not a definition as much as derivation from something that happens when you get really angry.

Even the example sentence implies actual anger, like a sports coach telling his players, "Get angry! Get mean!" He doesn't intend that they should actually dislike the other team, but rather they should pretend to be mad so they can muster greater physical effort.

I don't know much about the difference in use between AmE and BrE, but the expression "You're mad!" -- meaning that you are acting or thinking in a way that seems insane -- might be more common in BrE, judging from what I see on television (although modern slang seems to lean more towards, "You're mental!" or even "You're barking!").

Edit: Apparently to "get mad" is an AmE expression that doesn't exist in BrE (although it's likely they understand what an American means if he says it).


A meaning of get X is to become, of one's own accord, or implying that one can/should control X.

*Get mad at * then means to become mad at X, and it implies you can/should control how mad you are.

People are generally more energetic and decisive when they are mad, so if someone is talking colorfully, they may say you have to get mad at something, if that something requires a lot of strength or willpower.

So this is a possible figurative or "stretched" meaning of get mad, but I don't believe it's really the only or default thing get mad means.

You’re gonna have to get mad at it if you want to move it.

You could substitute angry and I think it would still be understood as not literally getting angry about it, but just to gather enough willpower or strength to do it.

  • As I said in my question the two definitions are (obviously) related. But the second one appears to be very specific, a common one, not just a "stretched" one given that the dictionary made an entry for it, but it does not mention the 'angry" one.
    – user5267
    Commented Oct 5, 2016 at 19:34
  • Unless people are saying this a lot now I don't understand why the dictionary lists that as a meaning, to be honest. I don't hear people casually say "get mad" meaning to gather motivation, it's usually only on the occasion when they are trying to be expressive or unique with their language. Maybe this is a different thing in BrE.
    – LawrenceC
    Commented Oct 5, 2016 at 19:36

The catchphrase, because it should be considered as a whole item and not broken into separate pieces, is:

don't get mad, get even

The Cambridge English Dictionary describes its (the entire catch phrase) meaning perfectly, and the example it quotes also indicates its origin.

This is my advice to wives whose husbands have left them for a younger woman — don't get mad, get even!

The same dictionary defines the idiom, get even, as

to punish someone who has done something bad to you by doing something equally bad to that person

The catch phrase is a borrowing of a north American expression, one which might be said to a woman whose husband had left her, or, had been unfaithful with a younger woman. The wronged wife would be incited to employ the energy of her anger in a more productive way, i.e. to channel that anger in order to wreak revenge.

Instead of losing her temper (‘get mad’ AmEng), she should seek financial compensation (‘get even’) or do anything that would "punish" the unfaithful spouse or partner.

It appears that this catchphrase has been adopted in British English, and can be used in any context where a person advises a wronged person to focus their energy in getting personal justice.

For those who want to learn more: the American etymologist, and OED contributor, Barry Popik, cites 1956 (Newport) as the earliest written instance, but the expression in speech most likely predates that year.

Judging by the following citations, the American English get mad has crept into the British vernacular, and whether native speakers like it or not, it is here to stay.

British English ‘get mad’

Literary examples of get mad (i.e. to become angry or extremely upset) found in the British National Corpus (link) Tip: Write get_mad and click on the search button.

Maria nodded, staring straight at Clare with her bulging eyes. "He gets mad when Gary doesn't sleep, he says it's my fault, he says I make him do it -- and --" She stopped again. "How old's Gary?" asked Clare, after the silence had lasted a little while. [...]
Maria shook her head convulsively. “He was shouting at me. Calling me. I asked him —I told him ‘Shut up or you'll wake Cathy too’ and he got madder — he — he thinks — he says I keep them awake so — so — so I don't have to go to bed with him.”

Her living image By Jane Rogers (1984)

I woke up a few times and got Mum out of bed all bleary-eyed and irritable in her nightie telling her a bogey-man was after me. First she was terrified there was a burglar, then when she'd searched the house from top to bottom she got mad and shoved me back to bed. You can picture it, can't you.

Gate-crashing the Dream Party By Alison Leonard (1989)

If my Mam got mad with me for something I'd done -- or more often something I hadn't done -- she used to make moaning noises and stagger about the house as if she was dying. My Dad used to say, "Now look what you've done to your mother," and if I answered back, he would start pelting things at me -- plates, cups, his dinner, the carving knife, and once a picture of Jesus floating up to heaven with a lamb tucked under each arm

An alternative assembly book Hoy, Mike and Hoy, Linda, Longman Group UK Ltd, Harlow (1991)

Constipated? Get mad! A group of constipated patients who were hypnotised then made to feel angry soon got rid of their problem

Excerpt from She magazine, London: The National Magazine Company Ltd (1989)

Further evidence from Google Ngram suggests that the trend for get mad is increasing, but it still has a long way to go before it catches up with get angry. Although the chances of that ever occurring, in either American or British English, is considerably low because get mad is INFORMAL.

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The answers supplied by @Andrew, @Lambie, and @LawrenceC have already explained the different meanings and usages of “get mad” in AmEng and BrEng.

  • My impression is that "get mad" (meaning get very angry) is used in BrE more that the answers suggest. The expression is not that uncommon, especially in writing, books.google.com/ngrams/…, and curiuosly it is not adequately covered by dictionaries.
    – user5267
    Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 8:55

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