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I have prepared the following hand-out for some intermediate EFL students. I am an English teacher in Tokyo. I mostly based it on Swan's Practical English Usage. I would be grateful for any feedback to make it more clear.

In particular, I did away with the distinction Swan makes between 'a listener' and 'a hearer' because it seemed needlessly complicated; I have changed that language to 'a speaker' or 'speakers'. I think it is easier to understand this way, but please let me know if you agree.

The other change I made to Swan in the 'advanced rules' section below was to encourage the usage of come more in #2 than in the other 2 contexts; to my ear, either go or come sounds natural in #1 and #3 (with the exception of occurrences after non-modal verbs in #3 - please see the next paragraph for that complication). Do you agree?

I previewed this handout with a private student tonight and as a result of her questions and comments I refined #3 of the advanced guidelines to draw a distinction between modal and non-modal verbs. This distinction seems correct, but adds a bit of a complicated wrinkle to the hand-out, because it does not seem to similarly apply to the #1 section of the advanced guidelines. Any help on clarifying and simplifying this point would also be greatly welcome.

(I had to spell-out the words ONE, TWO, etc. in the advanced guidelines section in order for them to display properly after originally having pasted from a Word document...)

Thanks!

How to use the verbs come and go in English

It can be difficult for second-language students to use go and come correctly, especially in spoken English. There are some simple rules you can learn which will enable you to correctly choose between these verbs 80% of the time, and some other more advanced choices you can make in other specific situations.

Basic Rules for Come and Go

come

We use come to describe movement to the place where one of the speakers is:

Could you come here for a minute, please, Diane? ~ I'm coming.

We've come to ask you if we can borrow your car for a week.

I've got some people coming for a meal tonight. Can you and Henry come too?

go

We use go to describe movement away from the place where the speakers are:

Are you going to the pub tonight?

Let's go and see Auntie Mary before the holiday is over.

They've gone to live in Australia and I don't think they'll ever come back.

More Advanced Guidelines for choosing between come and go

ONE. A speaker’s past or future location

You can use come for a movement to a place where one of the speakers (a) already was or (b) will be at the time of the movement. Choosing go in this context is also common.

*Do you remember that I came/went to see you in Paris when you lived there?

I will come/go to visit you in hospital when you have your operation next week.

She can’t come/go to your barbecue party in Stanley Park on Saturday.*

TWO. Joining a previously-made plan

We usually use come or come with to talk about joining a speaker’s previously-made plan, even if go is used for the movement itself.

We’re going to see a movie tonight. Would you like to come with us?

We’re going to see a movie tonight. Would you like to come?

THREE. Somebody else’s position

When a conversation is about another person (who is not part of the conversation), we can use come for movements of other people who are also not speakers in the conversation to the place where that other person is, was, or will be. Choosing go in this context is also common, but only following a modal verb.

Mary is in Florida now, and she was disappointed that her husband couldn’t come/go with her.

Bill waited at the restaurant for an hour, but his girlfriend didn’t come. [go would be incorrect here, because it does not follow a modal verb]

She invited John to her birthday party next Saturday in Osaka, but John won’t be able to come.

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Can you explain your comment here Bill waited at the restaurant for an hour, but his girlfriend didn’t come. [go would be incorrect here, because it does not follow a modal verb] , please, Shawn? Bill said he'd wait for me at the restaurant for an hour, but I didn’t go. seems OK to me. –  Edwin Ashworth Feb 4 '13 at 12:38
    
The example sentence you have given sounds correct with either 'go' or 'come', Edwin, but don't you agree that only 'come' is correct in context #3 in my handout? This is the reason for the complicated distinction between #1 and #3 with respect to modal/non-modal verbs in the handout. Any further thoughts? –  Shawn Mooney Feb 4 '13 at 12:45
    
I should have written "...only 'come' is correct when following a non-modal verb in context #3". –  Shawn Mooney Feb 4 '13 at 12:52
    
See how it compares with Fillmore's "May We Come In?" and Coming and Going –  John Lawler Feb 4 '13 at 14:40
    
@John Lawler, the thesis 'May We Come In' looks interesting, and I hope to read it in the fullness of time; the 2nd link 'Coming and Going' gave my PC a near-fatal error when I tried to open it. If you happen to have a specific, relevant comment on my post, I would like to hear it. –  Shawn Mooney Feb 4 '13 at 14:47
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closed as not a real question by Robusto, tchrist, Kristina Lopez, aedia λ, Hellion Feb 4 '13 at 19:28

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2 Answers

You have said:

We use come to describe movement to the place where one of the speakers is:

but then you give these examples:

Could you come here for a minute, please, Diane?

We've come to ask you if we can borrow your car for a week.

I've got some people coming for a meal tonight. Can you and Henry come too?

In the first, come indeed refers to the place where the speaker is. In the second, though, the speakers have moved to where the hearer is. And in the third, the location might be unrelated to where the speaker or hearer are actually located (that conversation could be happening during a chance meeting in a parking lot – surely the people aren't coming to the parking lot for the meal, right?).

I think that you need to say that come is used to describe movement to a particular place, and leave it at that. As your examples show, that place may be where the speaker is located, to where the hearer is located, or to some other place that can be determined by context.


In particular, I did away with the distinction Swan makes between 'a listener' and 'a hearer' because it seemed needlessly complicated; I have changed that language to 'a speaker' or 'speakers'. I think it is easier to understand this way, but please let me know if you agree.

I think you've actually made it more confusing, because, instead of using an inclusive term that would cover either/or (such as person), you've used an exclusive term that causes one to think, “That doesn't sound right.”

If you want to make such a change, I'd suggest using something more generic – a word that doesn't identify who is talking, and who is listening:

We use come to describe movement to the place where one of the parties is or may be located:

  • Could you come here for a minute, please, Diane?
  • We've come to ask you if we can borrow your car for a week.
  • I've got some people coming for a meal tonight. Can you and Henry come too?

I've only addressed come here; my thoughts on go would be largely the same.

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Like many such pairs, the formal distinction between come and go may be more honored in theory than in practice. Other examples include bring and take, teach and learn, compose and comprise, here and there, and this and that. That said, it is the mark of a non-native speaker in the Romance tongues to answer the command “Come here” with “I’m coming” rather than with “I’m going”, as is there required. Very few native English speakers are bothered by telling someone on the phone “I’m coming to see you tomorrow”, even though the direction is towards the listener. –  tchrist Feb 4 '13 at 12:15
    
@tchrist: Thanks for explaining why I left off that response on the first example. I'm glad you saw where I was going with that :^) –  J.R. Feb 4 '13 at 12:16
    
J.R., I really appreciate the feedback. I like your term 'parties,' except it will probably be unfamiliar to my students. I had thought that using 'a speaker' or 'the speakers' simplified it, but you don't seem to agree. To me, it is obvious that, no matter who is speaking at a particular point in a conversation, both or all parties are 'speakers'. So I am not yet convinced that the distinction you've made in the first part of your response is useful. Maybe 'parties' is the best word, but 'a person' sounds too general, as it could bleed into the 'advanced guidelines' I go on to set out. –  Shawn Mooney Feb 4 '13 at 12:29
    
Parties may be unfamiliar, as you say, but you can always define that word up front to clear up any potential confusion. I agree that person sounds too general, though, which is why I didn't use it in my concluding suggestion. –  J.R. Feb 4 '13 at 12:30
    
@tchrist: I'd argue that "I'm going to see you tomorrow" would not be used by a native speaker (except in the common usage of be going to as a way of expressing the future, unmarked or emphatic - englishtenses.com/going_to.html ). Similarly, "Come here" would be answered by "(I'm) coming". (Did you mean to say that, tchrist?) The notion appears to be that the traveller identifies their position with that of the addressee (in spirit?) as soon as the visit is planned. Cf the explanatory metaphor "I'll tell you where I'm coming from". –  Edwin Ashworth Feb 4 '13 at 12:32
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John Lawler's link sums up the difference between come and go perfectly well. It includes this OED definition for come, as an...

elementary intransitive verb of motion, expressing movement towards or so as to reach the speaker, or the person spoken to, or towards a point where the speaker in thought or imagination places himself, or (when he is not himself in question) towards the person who forms the subject of his narrative.

There are other senses to both words, but for our purposes we can define go exactly as above, but replacing towards with away from. Here's a good illustration of the difference in that link. Suppose John had been out, and...

1: he came home around midnight
2: he went home around midnight (went being the past tense form of to go).

In #1, we understand that he arrived home at midnight, but in #2 he left [the party] then. This is because although we know in both cases that "home" is the final location, in #2 we're forced to postulate some other location [a party, perhaps?] that John can move away from.


Since OP is in the TEFL business, I can't really dismiss his claim that non-native speakers have difficulty deciding which word to use, but I find it hard to see why. Taking one of OP's examples...

Do you remember that I came/went to see you in Paris when you lived there?

...and applying the principle illustrated above, it's clear went emphasises the fact that I left some other location to be with you in Paris. Perhaps implying I'm self-centred or don't travel much, or the journey itself was significant for some reason.

Conversely, came implies little about wherever I was before visiting (I might even have lived just down the road in Paris at the time). The emphasis in on both of us being at the [final] location. Perhaps because I'm reminiscing about what a good time we had there together.

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