Prepositions are tricky. They can sometimes be confused with one another because of similarities in spelling, as in the case of “in” and “on.” Sometimes, it’s the direction or position they indicate, as in our case in point, “get off” and “get down.” Does one “get down” or “get off” the train? At first glance, they look quite the same!
Both get off and get down are verbs that can be used transitively and intransitively. When used transitively, “get down” is “to manage to swallow”, as in getting a giant chicken nugget down in one bite. It can also refer to making someone feel “physically, mentally, or emotionally exhausted”, like when the news gets you down. The third transitive function refers to the act of writing or describing something, like getting a cute dog’s likeness down.
The intransitive function of get down is the right definition we are looking for. Here, the verb refers to “alighting, especially from a vehicle.” Get down from the car, get down from the tree, get down from your high horse— these are all appropriate uses of the verb. Before we get to the other verb in question, “get down” is also used to act on or consider something, as in “get down to business.” It can also be used for having a good time at a party, as in getting down at the club.
Now, we move on to get off. Do bear with us because this has a couple of transitive and intransitive uses, too. Transitively, it can refer to helping someone get a lighter penalty, as in a lawyer getting their client off. It can also mean succeeding in doing or saying something, like getting a last-minute comment off.
When used as an intransitive verb, it refers to avoiding or being spared from danger or punishment, like getting off the hook or getting off with a light sentence. It also has a couple of hedonistic applications, such as getting high on drugs, getting orgasms, or getting pleasure repeatedly, as in getting off with someone you like at school and getting off on being mean to your classmates. It can also mean departure, like getting off a trip or at work early. This is where it can be confused with “get down.” Why does one “get off” a train and not “get down” from it? We can think of a train as a trip, and one needs to get off to arrive at their destination. The same goes for airplanes and boats.
Here are a few more sample sentences to set “get off” and “get down” apart:
Ariana got down from the rooftop as soon as she heard the school bell ring.
Upon her mother’s request, Nicki got off from school early.
She just wants a world where everybody gets down on Friday nights.
The incubus gets off not just on sex, but also on the negative energy exuded by overtime workers.
Max avoids social media to keep the news from getting him down.
Reela can’t believe that her brother is getting off with just three hours of detention when she got a whole day and an earful from the counselor.
Each of these two verbs have many different uses, most of which are far apart from each other, but they can be used interchangeably when it comes to alighting vehicles. To distinguish them, remember where the subject or object of the verb is. Are they up on something, like a ledge? In that case, use get down. If they’re on something, like a stage, use get off.
This should help everyone get these two verbs right. If you have any questions about language and writing, let us know by sending us an email or dropping a comment.
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