In OELD the 25th entry for "get" offers two examples,

You get(= There are) all these kids hanging around in the street.

They still get cases of typhoid there.

I wonder why "you" is chosen for the first example while "they" is chosen for the second?

Besides, Is "you/they get" structure interchangeable with "there be" structure? Any difference in meaning or usage?


Often, you/they get X (or you/they have X) are indeed interchangeable with there is X, or X exists. But in general, both alternatives (particularly, get) are informal, "slangy" usages.

As you'd expect by considering the literal meaning, in many contexts using you rather than they tends to suggest that you personally might be aware of/affected by whatever X is. Correspondingly, using they often implies X happens somewhere else, to other people; it doesn't directly affect us.

you get prostitution in any big city.
they get prostitutes in there.
there is prostitution in your country too.

In context, it wouldn't be ridiculous to replace all of those three usages with either of the other two.

Having said that, my advice would be to accept (but avoid using) either of the "personal pronoun" forms except in the context of a verbal exchange where a native speaker has already used one. It won't always "work" (sound natural). This is particularly so with they get, which is normally only used in contexts where it's possible to imagine some class of people ("they") who actually receive, experience, encounter X.

Thus, for example,...

It's not just an issue for developed nations. You get nuclear power in China too. (credible)
They get nuclear power in China as well, you know. (unlikely)
They have nuclear power in China too. (unexceptional, "literal", not "slangy")

Note that in those examples, #2 is "unlikely" because nuclear power isn't something anyone would normally "get" (#1 is "iffy", but acceptable to most because we're so familiar with the idiomatic usage). But if we replace nuclear power by, say, cholera, all three versions work (though #1 and #2 are still "slangy").

  • OK, I might think your examples could've been more positive.
    – Kinzle B
    Mar 16 '14 at 16:09
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    @Zhanlong: There's a limit to how long I'm prepared to spend trawling Google Books for three specific instances where the forms could reasonably be transposed. As it was, I had to settle for prostitutes rather than prostitution on the second example. Mar 16 '14 at 16:13
  • @ZhanlongZheng. I would add that someone living in China would say "we" instead of they: "We get nuclear power in China as well, you know." Some languages (French and German for those I know, I'd be surprised there if there weren't more) have one personal pronoun to express what is either said in English by you, they or we in this usage of personal pronouns where "people" in general is meant.
    – None
    Mar 16 '14 at 17:16
  • @Laure: I think once you get to we you can't really avoid acknowledging the explicit identification of the subject, in most contexts. You could just about imagine a geneticist, for example, saying "We get mitochondria in lettuce too, you know", but it would strike me as slightly "odd", unless the context made it likely he meant "that's what me and my team have found". The idiomatic usage we're focussed on really is "non-personalised" (as in the French il existe des mitochondries dans la laitue). Mar 16 '14 at 17:47
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    @Zhanlong: As a general principle in this type of construction, you is more slangy than they, and get is more slangy than have. The very last example is still a bit "informal" (because of the rather vague "they" = "Chinese people"). But at least it can be interpreted literally, and it doesn't use the "extra slangy" elements you and get. The entire format is somewhat informal, but some versions are more slangy than others. Does that clarify things? Mar 17 '14 at 13:37

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