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I was at my house and bugs were flying in. Then I said, "I don't want to get bit by mosquitoes". Then my dad said "the word is bitten. Bit is incorrect". Was my statement correct?

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    “be bit by a…” is by far less commonly used than “be bitten by a…” books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – user 66974
    Commented Nov 1, 2022 at 17:07
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    The Ngram plots for "get bit" vs. "get bitten" vs. "be bit" vs. "be bitten" are interesting in that "be bitten" is the most common form of the four and "be bit" is the least common. The narrower gap between the two "get" forms suggests that "get" is a less formal verb choice than "be" in this particular usage.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Nov 1, 2022 at 22:01
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    To my Canadian ears, this sentence is 100% correct. I couldn't think what might be wrong with it until I read the body of the question.
    – gotube
    Commented Nov 2, 2022 at 13:44

7 Answers 7

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In standard English, the "past participle" is "bitten" not "bit" (like "forgotten" as opposed to "forgot".

"Bit" in this sense is archaic (the OED records it up to the 1800s) and probably dialectal.

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Language all depends on context. Also known as the register. The register could be formal or informal. So your answer could be perfectly correct depending on context.

So, in the North of England, for instance, if you were talking to someone informally, then "I don't want to get bit..." is perfectly normal and understood.

If you were talking in a more formal register, such as in a school essay, or perhaps when talking politely to older people, you might say "I don't want to be bitten" or "I don't want to get bitten". Both would be great.

When I do this, as a Father, I am trying to get across that it is good to know both forms, formal and informal. And it is good to know when to deploy each of them. Let me give an example.

Let's say you wrote a story about the Queen. She is closing the windows in her palace as it gets dark. Would she say to Prince Philip, "Oy Phil! Close the winders! I don't want to get bit by a mozzie!"?

I think we know that the answer is, probably not. In fact we would think it quite funny if she did!

Instead she might say, "Philip, dear, would you mind closing the windows? I don't want to be bitten by the mosquitoes".

This is more appropriate in this context because we typically imagine the Queen speaking quite formally.

In brief, you are both correct, but for different reasons! And hopefully now you know why :-) How great to have a parent who wants to help you learn these things!

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  • Yes, I would agree "bit" could very much be regional or register. "Bitten" may be grammatical but that isn't the only factor - especially with English :)
    – Mike M
    Commented Nov 2, 2022 at 1:57
  • Interesting story but I think they have servants for that kind of thing ;-)
    – paul
    Commented Nov 2, 2022 at 8:24
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    I don't think the Queen would say either, largely because she died not long ago. I can understand how you might have missed it though; it was hardly reported on the news.
    – psmears
    Commented Nov 2, 2022 at 10:15
  • Yeah, psmears, in my original reply, before I edited it, I said "Let's say you wrote a story about the Queen set in the 1990s" But the post was already long so I dropped that bit. I knew someone would notice ;-) Commented Nov 3, 2022 at 14:05
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Two well-known dictionaries show "bit" as an alternative past participle for "bite":

AHD bite v. bit, bit·ten or bit, bit·ing, bites

M-W bite bit; bitten also bit; biting

It sounds alright to me, and it's probably what I would say in ordinary speech.

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As the Grammarist notes: bit as pp of bite is still used, though rarely, also in writing:

Bit is the past tense of the verb bite. Bitten is usually the past participle. Still, even though bitten is conventional in such uses, bit is sometimes used as the past participle—for example:

  • Yet another NSW Government infrastructure project has bit the dust. [Sydney Morning Herald]

  • A Frankton woman went through a harrowing car wreck … and came out with only a little pain and a bit lip. [Herald Bulletin]

But such instances are rare. In edited writing, bit is usually the past tense.

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On be or get ...

In English, the passive is usually formed with the verb be, but in some cases it can be formed with the verb get. See Wikipedia

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I think your dad was right. "I don't want to be bitten..." or "I don't want to get bitten.." sounds correct to me.
Although your statement might well be used in a light-hearted or humorous context!

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We use get + past participle

Get is usually used with the past participle. It does not work with the present form or the past form of the verb.

In standard English bitten is the past participle of 'bite'. We can say get bitten (NOT get bite or get bit)

We can say 'I don't want to get bitten by mosquitoes'.

We sometimes use 'get' in the passive instead of 'be' .

He does not often get invited to parties. (=He is not often invited to parties)

He got offered the job.(=He was offered the job)

They get bitten by dogs. He got bitten by the dog. They often get bitten by mosquitoes.

'Get' can be used only when things happen or change. We don't say 'get liked'. We can use 'be' in all situations. ('Get' is usually used in informal English.)

Get is also used in idiomatic expressions.

get started= start, get married= marry, get divorced= divorce, get dressed= put on your clothes, get changed= change your clothes,

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