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Come & Go: partial inversion

The correct use of the verbs come and go causes problems for speakers of Portuguese. Depending on the context, come and go indicate a direction opposite to the corresponding words in Portuguese. There is a partial, context dependent inversion, of the direction indicated by come and go. Correct use is shown in Figure 1. Incorrect use and possible resulting problem is shown in Figure 2.

Figure 1
Picture Come Go - OK
Figure 2
Picture Come Go - Problem

This context dependent inversion of come and go is probably result of the fact that Portuguese has a preposition indicating “there where you, the listener, are”, while English doesn't have a preposition with this meaning. When responding to a request to come, one communicates “there where you are” by placing oneself in the place of the person who made the request. As a result, the direction indicated by come and go are inverted in these cases.

Answering “I'm coming” means “I'm moving to the place where you, who made the request, are” (See Figure 1). Answering “I'm going” means “I'm moving to a place where neither of us is” (Figure 2).

The same context dependent inversion happens with bring, which means “come and have something or somebody with oneself” and take, which means “go and have something or somebody with oneself”.

Not applying this context dependent inversion correctly in English, causes that a person who makes a request thinks the request is refused. This can lead to unpleasant situations, like in Figure 2.

The idea of placing oneself in the situation of the other also helps to find out which word to use when referring to a place where none of the speakers is at the time of requesting or suggesting. This can happen for instance when making an appointment and deciding where to meet.

Both of the following ways of suggesting are possible but there is a small difference in connotation.

The problem of mixing up come and go, can be avoided by using alternatives like the following.

They are common expressions for situations like this.

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Ton van Hattum


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