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English Test! "Got to" vs "gotta"

(American/Aussie) English learners, do you know the subtle but important difference between "got to" and "gotta"?

Example sentences:

A) "I got to work with Bob!" vs "I gotta work with Bob!"

B) "I got to see the opening night show." vs "I gotta see the opening night show."

I'm sure many of you can figure it out. I just thought it was pretty interesting how the same verb can mean opposite things depending on the speaker's feelings about it!

(Bonus question: why did I say American and Aussie, but not British English learners?)

The answer: saying the words "got to" may suggest excitement/positivity, where as "gotta" suggests the speaker is/was forced to do the action.

Explanation of my answer by Phil (a very popular/established teacher on here):


The OP is apparently not an experienced English teacher or expert on American phonology, so I’ll take the liberty of explaining his tips, which could be very useful for English learners (if more than a handful are actually reading this discussion. It is about pronunciation (not spelling). (I’d recommend that he use IPA in the future to avoid misunderstandings.) His tips are really valuable for anyone interested in understanding English as spoken by almost 400 million people.  

1. In spoken US English, lots of (maybe most, truth be told) people (yes, educated people too) drop the ‘ve (and often the subject as well) in “I’ve got to” and reduce the t to a voiced apicoalveolar flap (IPA /ɾ/ — this will actually sound like an R to many non-native speakers). I’ll use /t̬/ so as to retain some semblance of the underlying phoneme value. “I’ve got to work with Bob” is usually pronounced

2. In the expression “I got (simple past) to work with Bob,” the /t/ is not reduced to /t̬/ (really IPA /r/), but remains a normal /t/ (actually, geminate).

So, in this case, the difference between /t̬/ and /tː/ completely changes the meaning of the sentence. It’s well worth learning, since if a learner gets it wrong in America or Canada, there will probably be a misunderstanding. It's probable that Americans will pick up on this unconsciously and won’t even consider the other meaning. This won’t happen in standard British English (RP), since they always pronounce the T as /t/ (or sometimes /ts/, but that’s another matter entirely. I’m afraid I wouldn’t know about the Australian pronunciation.

Feb 24, 2018 5:05 AM
Comments · 24

Well, if this is a test, I think that we've all failed it! I'm confused by the reference to Australian English and by the notion that British English is different with regard to these sentences.

This is how I understand the difference. Please do tell me if I'm wrong.

I got to work with Bob

Grammar: Past tense, referring to a past time. 'Got' is the past simple of the main verb 'get'.

Meaning: I had the opportunity to work with Bob, as in "How was your internship at ABC Motors?" "Great! I got to work with Bob. I'd been wanting to work with him for years and I finally got the chance."

Phonology:  No reduction occurs. 'Got' and 'to' are pronounced as separate words.

I've got to work with Bob       

Grammar:  Present tense, referring to present time. The main verb is 'have', contracted to 've. The word 'got' (the current past participle in B.E. and possibly an archaic one in A.E.)  serves no function other than to help the flow of the utterance.

Meaning: I have to work with Bob= I must work with Bob

Phonology:  Reduction occurs. The 've' may be dropped, and the words 'got' and 'to' may be combined to produce an utterance which sounds like I gotta.

February 27, 2018

* I disagree with the OP that got to suggests 'excitement and positivity' while gotta suggests something negative.

How about "You gotta work with Bob! He's the best!". Surely that expresses excitement and positivity?

* It's also very misleading to suggest that the transcription gotta might have any grammatical or semantic function separate from the standard written form 've got to.

NB  A note for learners of English. Please remember that gotta is just the way that some people write the sounds produced when speakers say "I've got to..." quickly. Nobody chooses to say gotta - it's simply what happens when sounds are reduced and words slide together. It has no meaning independent of 'I've got to...', and is not a recognised word in standard written English.

February 27, 2018

Not angry, @Eric. I'm sorry if that's the impression I gave!

As long-term members will know, the whole gonna gotta wanna thing is something I feel strongly about. This is because it worries me that there's a tidal wave of misinformation out there.

I was also confused ( rather than angry!) about why you felt that this should only apply to US/Aus English. We use 'got to' in the same way as you do, and the reduction/non-reduction rule is the same.

The only difference, as far as I can see, is for the present perfect of sentence 1 - A.E. speakers would say, for example, 'I've gotten to work with Bob three times this year', whereas B.E. speakers would say 'I've got to work with Bob three times this year'.  In fact, if we want to highlight the difference between the two forms of got to ( one meaning 'had the opportunity to' and one meaning 'must'), it might even work better in B.E., because 'I've got to work with Bob' actually has two completely different meanings in for B.E. speakers. Context, obviously would make it clear, but also the phonology :  'I've got to work with Bob' (meaning 'I've had the opportunity to work with Bob') has no reduction, whereas 'I've got to work with Bob' ( meaning 'I have to work with Bob') would be reduced to 've gotta.'     And apologies for any perceived anger. None intended. :)

February 27, 2018
i thought they have quite different meaning as gotta means have to? 
February 28, 2018

I hadn't got the meaning and the difference between them for ten years. I got to know them finally when one of my American friends explained me a few years ago. I always gotta learn real American English.  I've got to admit Naree Yoon's grammatic point  is right. And I think Su. Ki.'s explanation is perfect.

If my understanding is correct, the translations of above would be...

I didn't know the meaning of them but my friend taught me. I became to know them. I have to learnreal American English. I have to admit  it. 

got to =became to

gotta( have got to) = have to 

I think many English learners are confused about these expressions. Languages are alive and change their appearance in their place where they live, when they are spoken.

This topic is interesting. Thank you, Eric. I enjoyed a lot.

February 28, 2018
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