The occasional ramblings of a freelance lexicographer

Thursday, October 07, 2021

Don’t come asking me!

This morning, I spotted the tweet below from Hugh Dellar. I started mulling over examples while I was having breakfast and by the time I got to my desk, my interest was piqued enough to do a few quick corpus searches.



I came to two main conclusions: firstly, that come and go can both be used in very similar ways and secondly, there seem to be three broad uses for the pattern. Inevitably, as is often the case with language, these uses overlap and there are some examples that don’t quite fit any of them.

Note: I should say that I ignored instances, especially with go, where the verb participle could just be described as an activity – go swimming, go hiking, go shopping, etc. I didn’t look at examples with something between the two verbs (which were mostly reduced relative clauses) and I also ignored go missing and go begging which seem to be more fixed phrases.

These were the top combinations I found for each verb, with examples from the enTenTen20 – an English web corpus with data from 2020. The colour-coding matches the uses below:


Sudden movements:

The examples which Hugh started off with seem to fit into the most common category which can be used with both come and go to describe a sudden and often dramatic or unexpected movement. It’s a use that’s exemplified and highlighted in most of the learner’s dictionaries and which even gets its own senses in OALD – sense 6 at come here and sense 4 at go here.

The choice of verb just indicates whether the movement is away from the speaker – He went running out the door – or towards the speaker – He came running into the kitchen.

And it can describe either a literal movement or a metaphorical one – the memories came flooding back, the offers came pouring in, etc.

Seeking out:

The second sense I started to notice was about actively seeking someone or something out. The difference between She knocked on my door and She came knocking on my door seems to be about the intent of the person knocking – they went somewhere with the specific intention of doing something.

Again, there were a few metaphorical examples – see the examples for come calling and go chasing above.

Warnings against ill-advised actions:

I found this last usage the most interesting. It seems to be mainly used with negatives and more with go – although come is also possible (Don’t coming crying to me if it all goes wrong) – and it’s used to warn people against doing something ill-advised, reckless or mischievous.

But don’t go blaming me if you find other senses I haven’t covered!


Corpus note: If you want to play around for yourself, I used CQL searches on Sketch Engine as below:

[lemma = “come”] [tag = “VVG”]

[lemma = “go”] [tag = “VVG”]


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