“I didn’t get it” or “I don’t get it”?

There is a phrase in the English language that we use a lot of the time. We use it when talking about things we were supposed to receive. These things could be physical things such as deliveries or it could be metaphorical things such as information.

That phrase is “I didn’t get it”. Today, we’ll be looking at what it means, how it’s meaning can change in different situations. And whether or not it’s grammatically correct. Because surely logic would dictate that it should be “I don’t get it”.

You might have said it after a complex explanation or after a failed delivery.
And when to use “didn’t” or “don’t” depends on the context. The short answer: “I didn’t get it” should be said “I don’t get it” as you’re talking about your current state of mind. However, you can use the past “I didn’t get it” when talking about physical objects, or after you’ve gained an understanding.

When it could be said

Understanding

“The most efficient way that one can incorporate the Proto-Indo-European methods of the English language into their regular dialect is to understand the importance of the source”.

If your reaction to that sentence was something along the lines of “huh”, you might say “I didn’t get it”.

In this context “it” refers to information, you didn’t receive the knowledge that I was trying to convey. In this context “it” is technically a noun, but it’s an abstract noun as you cannot physically touch it.

Although it could be argued that you should say “I don’t get it”.

Jokes

Similarly, you might hear a joke that you don’t understand. In this context, you might say “I didn’t get it”.
In this phrase, similarly to in the previous section, “it”is still an abstract noun. However, whilst in the previous section “it” was knowledge, here “it” is humour.

By saying “I didn’t get it” after a joke, you’re saying that you did not receive the humour that the joke teller was trying to convey.

Similarly to not getting knowledge, it would make more sense to say that you “don’t get it”.

Behaviour

And the final way that the “it” in “I didn’t get it” is an abstract noun is when you’re talking about human behaviour.

For example, if you’re sitting and having a nice conversation with someone, and they then throw their drink at you, you might say “I didn’t get it”.

Here “it” is the understanding of the reason for their actions. So by saying “I didn’t get it” after an abnormal action from another person, you’re saying that you have not received an understanding for the reason why they have performed the action which they have.

Once again, it would make more sense to say “I don’t get it”.

Past Simple

The phrase “I didn’t get it” is written in the past tense. “Didn’t” is the past version of “don’t”.
Short for did not.
But to be more specific, “didn’t” is in the past simple. Past simple describes events that have finished, and with no context of the time they took place.

“I didn’t get it” doesn’t automatically indicate when you didn’t get it. But funnily enough, it does indicate that your lack of understanding has finished.

If you were to say “I wasn’t getting it”, you would be talking in the past continuous.

Surely “don’t” is better

For this reason, it would make more sense to talk in the present tense, by saying “I don’t get it”. If you want to show your lack of understanding, you should be showing your current lack of understanding.

“I didn’t get it” is implying that at first, you didn’t understand, but now you do. However “I don’t get it” implies that you are currently lacking in understanding.

There’s rarely a purpose in telling someone that there was a time when you didn’t understand, but that time is now in the past. If we’re talking about your present state of mind, we should talk in the present tense.

Present Simple

If we want to be super specific, “I don’t get it” is written in the past simple.
Past simple indicates actions that happen regularly.

For example “I walk to work” suggests that walking is the method you use to get to work. But “I’m walking to work” suggests that you’re currently walking to work.

“I don’t get it” means that your mind is currently in a constant state of not understanding. “I’m not getting it” on the other hand would mean that you currently don’t understand but will in the near future.

When “didn’t” should be used

There are however, two exceptions for when it’s grammatically correct to say “I didn’t get it”.

In the past

The first is when “it” is an abstract noun, a synonym for “understanding”. However, in this context, your lack of understanding was in the past, and you now understand.

For example, you might say “I didn’t get it when you told me that joke last week, but I do now I’ve watched the film”.
Or you could say “I didn’t get it, but I spoke to my teacher who explained it to me, and now I do”.

Physical noun

And the second is when you’re talking about a physical noun. Such as a package that was supposed to be delivered to you, but wasn’t. Here it’s fine to talk in the past tense because you’re talking about an event that was supposed to happen in the past.

For example, Amazon might ask you “How was your new book?” and you could respond with “I didn’t get it”.
Or you could say “I didn’t get it, until yesterday, so I haven’t read it yet”.

In both these sentences, we’re talking about a past event, that event being not receiving your book.

Conclusion

“I didn’t get it” should be said “I don’t get it” as you’re talking about your current state of mind. However, you can use the past “I didn’t get it” when talking about physical objects, or after you’ve gained an understanding.

Both “didn’t” and “don’t” are written in simple tenses.

In the context of information, jokes, or behaviour, “it” is an abstract noun, and relates to understanding.
This understanding could be about information, comedy, or reasoning.

“I didn’t get it” is something we say all the time, even though it’s grammatically incorrect, and we would be much better to say “I don’t get it”.