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“He got his car stolen.” (From a Korean Grammar text)

When I saw afore-written sentence, I thought: can it make sense? It might be, if it should mean: [thought 1] he intentionally had his car stolen for malicious object, i.e. for taking insurance deceitfully. But this sentence below makes me think differently.

He got his nose broken in a fight. [= his nose was broken in a fight] (Webster’s #11)

After seeing Webster’s example, I got this second thought: [thought 2] he has got his car stolen without his any vicious intentions, i.e. totally by outer causes, that is, by thieves, etc.
Nonetheless, still I can’t shake off the first thought. How can I understand the sentence?

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    It depends on the context. The use of "got" in some sentences can imply an intended or preferred interpretation, but usually you'll still need the overall context to see which interpretation is meant. – F.E. Aug 12 '14 at 16:02
  • F.E. is correct. As you can see from all the answers which disagree with one another, both of your thoughts on this matter are justified. – Tyler James Young Aug 12 '14 at 16:45
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"Got his" adds an ingredient of blame over the person involved, meaning that he/she contributed in some way to the event.

You can be told not to drive into a dangerous neighborhood, because you can "get your car stolen" if you do so. Or you can "get your nose broken" if you provoke the wrong person.

On the other hand, if no negligence was shown by the person involved in the event, you can simply say that "his car was stolen" and "his nose was broken".

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This is an area where grammar rules are not going to answer your question and you will be able to find plenty of uses of this construction either to suggest responsibility or not.

Plenty of people say “he got his car stolen” to mean that someone maliciously robbed him, and plenty of people would say “he got his nose broken” without the intention of blaming the subject in any way for his now broken nose.

The key is to be aware of the ambiguities of this construction and supply (or look for) context.


“Got” vs. “Had”

Unfortunately, there isn’t a strict, universal distinction between “got” and “had” in this case. Even worse, there will be people on either side with incompatible justifications for which word implies what fact(s).

Either of these two by itself could indicate scheming or innocent victimhood on the part of the subject:

  1. He had his car stolen.

  2. He got his car stolen.

My personal opinion is that the latter of the above two carries more risk of attributing at least some blame to the subject (see the next section of this answer or see Josue’s answer), but only if more context is provided can we be certain. For example:

    • Sadly, he had his car stolen last week.
    • Sadly, he got his car stolen last week.
    • He had his car stolen for the insurance money.
    • He got his car stolen for the insurance money.

Implicit Blame

Even in cases where it’s clear from context that the subject has had something stolen from them (i.e. taken without their consent), saying that someone “got” their car stolen can imply some responsibility on the part of the victim. Saying it this way can carry the message that the victim should have been more careful, or is experiencing the consequence of a known risk.

Part of the issue you are having comes from the fact that this is a problematic concept. Even though it’s clear in hindsight what the victim could have done differently, we must be careful about attributing a share of the blame to this person who had no intention of getting their car stolen. I’m sure everyone has had this experience of wishing we could change something we did after it turned out poorly in the end, even if the negative outcome was simple misfortune or external malice, and it’s not helpful to feed into these anxieties in others (especially as a casual implication without constructive feedback).

My advice is to avoid the ambiguity altogether. For example:

Someone stole his car.

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"got" in this sense merely means that something happened to him, and makes no inference as to who was at fault. "Had" can also be used, but is not as common as "got" in a neutral statement, such as these:

He got his car stolen = someone stole his car

He got stabbed = someone stabbed him

When we want to attribute some blame to the person affected, we use "-self":

He went into the wrong neighborhood and got himself stabbed. = he was stupid!

Otherwise you have to implicate him literally for some fault to be attributed to the person affected:

He didn't know when to shut his mouth and got his ass kicked. = he caused it to happen

If he himself arranged for the car to be stolen for whatever reason, then you would use most commonly use "have," less commonly "got":

He had his car stolen, had his wife killed and had his house burnt down = he arranged for these things to happen.

-or- alternatively:

He had someone steal his car, kill his wife and burn down his house.

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    “Got” does carry a little bit of blame on its own, depending a bit on context (as you show). “Himself” definitely increases that effect, but it’s not useable in the case of the stolen car. “Had” on its own is insufficient to convey that he arranged for those things to happen. Even “He had someone steal his car” is used in cases where the person did not arrange for these things to be done. – Tyler James Young Aug 12 '14 at 20:27
  • I see your point, but you propose situations where the action was done mostly on purpose, such as "he had his house burnt to claim the insurance". – Josh Aug 14 '14 at 12:58
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Your second thought is correct, the use of 'got' [in this context] doesn't mean he had involvement, it just means it was taken from him.

Hope this helps :)

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