You cut your hair?! How to use passives correctly

I got my hair cut

In English, the subject of the sentence is not always the one who does the action. This can get a little confusing for non-native speakers.

Imagine your friend spots something different about you:

B: Hey, you're looking good! What’s different?
A: Thanks. I cut my hair.
B: Really? Looks great, but how did you do the back of your head?
A: What do you mean? My hairdresser did it.
B: Ooh, I see what you mean...

Can you see why there is confusion here? Speaker A said he did the action; he cut his own hair. This is obviously not what he meant to say. He should have said:

B: Hey, you are looking good! What’s different?
A: Thanks. I got my hair cut.
B: Looks great!

The use of the word "got" makes all the difference. This is known as the passive voice. It is used when the agent doing the action is unknown or unnecessary to mention.

You can add "by my hairdresser" to specify who cut your hair, but it is not necessary. You can alternatively say, "I had my hair cut". This makes it slightly more formal.

Compare:

  • I got my car fixed = someone fixed it (I requested for the mechanic to fix it).
  • I fixed my car = I did it myself. I’m so clever!

Let’s think of a few more situations. For instance, your teacher corrects your homework:

A: My homework got corrected. I just saw my results. I did better than I thought.
B: Well done. That's great!

You can also use "was" instead of "got", so you can say, "My homework was corrected yesterday." The meaning doesn't change, but it does seem slightly more formal. Again, you can also add "by my teacher" after the word "corrected", but this is not necessary. 

I requested my hair to be cut, so, "I got my hair cut." Or, "I had my hair cut." Obviously, it would be strange to say, "I was my hair cut." 

The conversations below differ slightly only in the level of formality. "Got" is slightly more casual, and "was" is more polite. 

A: My deadline got/was moved forward— now I have to finish by this Friday!
B: What?! That's not very long!!

So, whether you're using had, got or was, this pattern is sure to come in handy.