phrasal verb: get at

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For this week’s phrasal verb, I’ve chosen another one that I wrote about in my book, Mike’s Phrasal Verbs. This one is “get at”, and it has three meanings:

1. for someone to say something indirectly when they’re speaking. For example:

A: Maybe it’s time for you to change your job.

B: What are you getting at? Are you firing me?

I see you don’t understand what I’m saying. What I’m trying to get at is that this project won’t be easy.

2. to reach something. For example:

I can’t get at the cookies. They’re on the top shelf, and I’m not tall enough.

If you can’t get at the books at the top, you can stand on this chair.

3. to have access to someone or something (usually for a negative purpose). For example:

The assassin tried to get at the president of the company, but his bodyguards protected him.

How are we going to get at the bank’s vault? The security system is so sophisticated.

This last example would be spoken by a person who’s trying to rob a bank. I’m sure none of you would have to use “get at” for negative reasons, but this is the kind of language we often hear in TV shows and movies, so it is important to know it. You can use it if you’re telling someone what happened in a particular story.

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