The questions here are not about meaning.
They are about the usage of the verbs get and catch in the context of getting a cold.

My dictionary says that get can be used to mean 'to become infected with an illness; to suffer from a pain, etc.' and gives the example:

I got this cold off you.

My grammar confirms the dictionary and talks about get a cold in the chapter dedicated to the verb get. It also brings catch a cold to exemplify English collocations.

However, I was browsing the Internet and it seems that, at least for Americans, if we say I got a cold it is kind of uneducated. I caught a cold is what we should say.

1) Is this true? Is it better to say I caught a cold than I got a cold?
2) If it is the case, does this apply to British English as well?

  • 2
    I don't know about better or worse, but I don't know if I've really ever heard "getting a cold". I've almost exclusively heard "catching a cold" and "having a cold". Edit: Can't answer about BE, I just speak AE. – imkingdavid Sep 19 '15 at 11:43
  • Perhaps, cold is infectious so you catch it from others! – Maulik V Sep 19 '15 at 12:39
  • @imkingdavid : you speak AE and you may not have heard "getting a cold"? Not a real gauge of it, but still: google.com/… – Victor Bazarov Sep 19 '15 at 18:58
  • This is one of those 'rules' of grammar that someone will immediately tell me is wrong, but my understanding has always been that you should never use 'got' or 'gotten' in formal spoken or written English. I'm not sure there's any particularly good reason why both 'got' and 'gotten' are looked down upon, but in my experience they are. – fred2 Jan 1 '16 at 16:54
  • @fred2 - Have you got any references? – nnnnnn Jun 10 '16 at 6:16
up vote 9 down vote accepted
+200

"Catch cold" is the canonical form in the US and Commonwealth countries.

"Get cold" means something quite different, though the argument can easily be made that if you get cold you may well catch cold too.

Both expressions are idiomatic, since there're no transitive acts involved. In neither case is "cold" a noun in these constructions. It's a condition, the result of a process, thus (I think) an adverb.

In "catch a cold", cold is clearly a noun and "catch" again an idiomatic use of the verb. There's an implication that the cold is "going around" or "making the rounds", and the catching was sheer accident. It's sometimes cast the other way 'round for humorous purposes ("a cold caught me last week and hung on like grim death").

"Get a cold" isn't idiomatic since the noun "cold" in this context has been naturalised in English to mean a certain type of usually-minor-but-very-unpleasant-and-socially-offputting illness. "Get a cold" is just raw information ("I got/had/suffered from a cold last week"; "I think you're getting/coming down with a cold"). To assign responsibility, explicit [and nearly always only mock-serious] complaint is needed: "I think I got/have/caught your damned cold--thanks a lot!"

  • 1
    I like your answer, but I do not believe your first statement is correct, at least with regards to American usage. "Catching a cold" would be fine, but I've never heard anyone say "Catch cold." – Mark Hubbard Dec 15 '16 at 16:07
  • 1
    Perhaps I'm out-of-date, but I heard it all the time growing up (we lived for years in Minnesota). "You sound pretty bad, you gunna die [said jokingly]?" "Nah, I caught cold shoveling out some guy from DC whose car got stuck. I should've put on a coat." – MMacD Dec 15 '16 at 18:18
  • OK, good to know. Fargo much? :-) – Mark Hubbard Dec 15 '16 at 23:35
  • @MarkHubbard Also "Be careful you don't catch cold." is also common. (AmE) – user3169 Jul 3 '17 at 20:51

In my experience (AmE), the proper form is caught.

I caught a cold.

Using got is more informal, and can be used to indicate motion of the illness (as in your example):

I got the cold from you.

But really I don't think there is much real difference.

As a American from public education that stopped in high school, I would say "I have a cold".

Also "I caught a cold" would to me mean that your cold recently happened. And "I got a cold" is not necessarily uneducated you could say lazy or more accurately its slang way to say "I have a cold". Finally to me "I got a cold" means you have been feeling the symptoms of a cold for a prolonged period.

I got a cold. (AmE)
I caught a cold. (BrE, AmE)

both have the same meaning as

I have a cold. (BrE, AmE)

that is that you are now sick.

"Caught" can leave the listener wondering "what" or "where" you acquired your illness. It also sounds more "active", as in you did something which contributed to you becoming ill

I was outside shoveling the snow and caught a cold.
It's cold outside, bundle up or you will catch a cold!

Using "got" and "have" can be simply statements of a current condition, they are more "inactive"

I was sitting on the couch all day and got a cold.
I stayed indoors, and now I have a cold.

There is a joke in the programming community

I've got a code in my node.
I've got a cold in my nose
(as said with a blocked nose)

"I got a cold" is sometimes said as "I gotta cold" which may sound less educated or of a certain region, whereas

I've got a cold.

is often used and more correct.

All these statements may be interchangeable with additional context.

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