The Switch

Words or phrases often come in pairs (like have and have got), and perform a pair of tasks. But one of them will perform both tasks, while the other only performs one of them.

But then the "Law of Linguistic Cussedness" applies: the word that only performs one of the tasks is often the more common of the two.

Here are two examples (a line through text means "incorrect usage"):

1. Have and have got

We use these verbs for "ownership" (I've got a cold) or "activities" (we had a nice time). But look at this:

I have coffee at 11
I've got coffee at 11


I have a cold
I've got a cold


We can use have for both meanings; we can use have got for only one meaning.

However, have got is very common, and students need to learn it ("Law of Linguistic Cussedness").

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2. In and into

We use these prepositions for "going in" (he got into the car) and "being in" (he's in the car). But look at this:

He's in the car
He's into the car

"being in"

He got in the car
He got into the car

"going in"

We can use in for both meanings; we can only use into for one meaning.

And there is a second switch, a sort of sub-switch. Look at this:

He got in
He got into

"going in" without an object

He got in the car
He got into the car

"going in" with an object

The Switch, in which one item can work in two ways while its companion (so to speak) only works in one, permeates language. Here are a half a dozen pairs where (if you think about it) the Switch applies:

the girl with a handbag
the girl in/with a green skirt

He had left when I arrived
He left/had left before I arrived

this will happen
this/that happened

The cat is underneath
The cat is under/underneath the car

Put it on
Put your coat on/put on your coat

A manager is being transfered to... (not her volition)
A manager is transferring to... (her/not her volition)

Put those plates back (they were there previously)
Put those plates away (they were (not) there previously)

switch off the light
turn off/out the light

can/be able to

There are hundreds of these "Switches", in grammar, in lexis and in phonology.

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