Where did you come from?

What is the nuance of this emphasis? I could understand it if the emphasis were on where.

  • 1
    Depending on the context: Where did you come from? (You, and not some other person. The speaker is surprised to see you.) Where did you come from? (Emphasis on your origin, as if you might be an alien from outer space.)
    – Manish
    Oct 22, 2014 at 16:24
  • 5
    Where did this quote come from?
    – Jeff Roe
    Oct 22, 2014 at 21:20
  • 1
    @Jeff: Only you can settle the argument here! :) Did you post your comment as a genuine enquiry because you really really really want to know (and you're surprised that you don't know)? Or because you're surprised that such a quote could even exist (and have actually come from somewhere)? That would be a binary choice A or B question - answers along the lines of "Just to make people think/laugh" don't count. Oct 22, 2014 at 22:43
  • 6
    This is what Huddleston calls "emphatic polarity" in The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (page 98). There should be a contrast, implicit or explicit: "[Well, if you didn't come from the store, then] where did you come from?" The exact interpretation would depend on context you haven't provided.
    – user28567
    Oct 23, 2014 at 9:00
  • This may go without saying for most people, but just in case: the emphasis is actually spoken. Usually "did" in that sentence would be on an unstressed syllable: "Where did you come from?" With the italics, it becomes "Where did you come from?"
    – trlkly
    Oct 24, 2014 at 0:59

7 Answers 7


Here is a hypothetical conversation where emphasis on did might make sense:

Speaker A: "You look sweaty. Were you working out at the gym?"

Speaker B: "No, I didn't come from the gym."

Speaker A: "Well, where did you come from?"

Speaker A wants to elicit an affirmative statement by that emphasis. The emphasis also expresses annoyance at Speaker B's uninformative negated response.

  • I don't see why he needs to be upset to emphasize a word.
    – Octopus
    Oct 23, 2014 at 3:33
  • 1
    @Octopus "Upset" might be too strong. It could be interpreted as annoyance, though. Oct 23, 2014 at 3:35
  • 4
    In this scenario, the effect of the emphasised "did" is to convey that A is not going to guess again. I don't know what this is the case, but that's what the emphasis does. Oct 23, 2014 at 12:16
  • @Octopus the annoyance is because speaker B didn't give an answer to speaker A's implied first question, which was "Why are you sweaty?"
    – GreenGiant
    Oct 23, 2014 at 15:20
  • 4
    A similar example is: A: "You talked to one of the physics professors to confirm your results?". B: "Yes, though Professor A was too busy, Professor B is out of the country, Professor C doesn't really work in that speciality, and...". A: "Well who did you talk to?" B claims to have talked to someone but doesn't tell you who and A is saying, "I don't care who you didn't talk to, I care who you did talk to."
    – Wayne
    Oct 23, 2014 at 19:40

@Jasper suggests that the emphasis indicates surprise at your sudden appearance; but in my experience that would be indicated by stressing the you ("Where did you come from?").

When the did is stressed, especially if said in an arch voice (or textually in a sarcastic context), it would imply that your behavior is weird, incomprehensible, or just odd.

In that situation, you could extend the sentence by naming a foreign or alien place:

Where did you come from? Mars?

  • 1
    Don't get on my case for downvoting this (I'm mainly just ticked off because someone anonymously downvoted my own answer). But I think you've completely missed the point of the most likely context for OP's example with stress as written. Yours is the "contrived" context referenced in my answer (which could equally well have stress on where for effectively the same meaning). My context, which I feel is more common anyway, pretty much requires that the stress be on did to convey the intended sense. Oct 22, 2014 at 22:35
  • @FumbleFingers, don't worry, I am a believer in the system, and have no issue at all with getting downvoted, and actually prefer it to people posting endless cavils about whether my answer is correct (just downvote already, that's what it's there for!). For the record, I didn't downvote you either, and I'm sorry if I stole an idea you posted before me, I honestly didn't see your answe before I posted mine. That said, I don't agree my context is contrived (I've both heard and used this phrase, stress this way, to express this emotion).
    – Dan Bron
    Oct 22, 2014 at 22:48
  • No - I posted several hours after you - though in truth, I never actually read your answer until a few minutes ago. Looking at it even more carefully right now, I think the implications of your final example "Wherever you came from (which doesn't necessarily interest me in the slightest), it must be a pretty weird place" are actually in accord with my own post, so I think I'd better reverse that downvote anyway! :) Oct 22, 2014 at 22:53
  • I like this answer, but if that is what was meant by the original quote, I would expect "come" to be italicized too. "Where did you come from?"
    – Jeff Roe
    Oct 22, 2014 at 23:28
  • 1
    @Jeff, ok, now picture an upper-class Brit saying it ;)
    – Dan Bron
    Oct 22, 2014 at 23:37

In this case, it is not the location he came from that is important. It is the very act of appearing from somewhere, and that act is represented by the verb did.


Some emphasis variations:

"Where did you come from?"

  • You told me, but I didn't hear you. Or perhaps I didn't believe you.

"Where did you come from?"

  • As Dan Brown and 200_Success indicated, it could either indicate surprise at your odd behavior or emphasis on location after being told you didn't come from a specific place. In the former, the "did" will be emphasized with higher pitch; in the latter, with elevated volume, with some variation.

"Where did you come from?"

  • Expression of surprise at your sudden appearance. As in "Where did those ninjas come from?"

"Where did you come from?"

  • I know where you are and where you're going, I want to know where you came from.

"Where did you come from?"

  • I know how you got here, I want to know where you started the trip.

All of these, except for emphasis on "you" are inquiries about where you came from. They vary a bit on the extra information conveyed along with the query. The emphasis on "you" is really more an expression of shock, and perhaps asking "How did you get here without my noticing earlier?"

  • 1
    Nice list! It's also worth noting emphasis on "you" can be used to mean "as opposed to someone else". For example: A: "What are you doing here?" (surprise at sudden appearance) B: "Well, Sam came from the mall, and I―" A: "Yes, I know. Where did you come from?" (as opposed to Sam)
    – Raizin
    Oct 23, 2014 at 17:35

In most contexts, putting the stress on did in OP's construction effectively uses that word as a "proxy" for stressing the word where - which would normally imply the speaker is genuinely and intensely interested in knowing where the other person came from. But...

Unless delivered in some (contrived) context where there's no obvious entrance through which the other person could have (just) appeared, it's far more likely to be a rhetorical question. That's not to imply the asker already knows the answer - he probably neither knows nor cares. He's just obliquely referencing wherever you came from scornfully. Probably implying something like....

"They don't teach very good manners wherever you came from"

...or some other snide put-down of your place of origin (effectively, of you).

  • +1 for mentioning it in a rhetorical sense, which is the one I'd be most likely to use. I'd like to add that it could probably also be used to express awe, rather than just scorn.
    – Magus
    Oct 23, 2014 at 17:03

Since it hasn't been mentioned yet, the meaning of the emphasis can be determined by the part of speech being emphasized.

"Did" is a verb. When a verb is emphasized in a question like this, it's pointing out the action in opposition to some other action(s) that were not done.

  • Where did you run to? (as opposed to walk/crawl/fly)
  • Why are you crying? (as opposed to screaming/laughing/snoring)

"Did/Do" is a special case - it's the meta-verb, verbs are about "doing" things. The only alternative to "doing" is "not doing".


  • Where did you come from? (as opposed to where you did not come from)

For other parts of speech, (Where, you, come, from) the emphasis plays out differently.

Most of this has been implied in other answers, but it's useful to explicitly recognize the parts of speech and how they play into it.

  • So it is emphasizing polarity (intimate with the presence or absence of 'not').
    – AmI
    Sep 29, 2018 at 17:47

I would interpret it as meaning that "did" is to be emphasized when the line is spoken -- "Where DID you come from?" (By "emphasized" I mean spoken a bit slower, louder, and more distinctly.) When spoken, emphasis on "did" in that situation implies that it's a rhetorical question, though I can't give you a general rule as to when/how that works.

But, eg, "What HAVE you done?" would be a similar rhetorical question -- the speaker knows perfectly well what you did, but does not approve of it.

FWIW: "Where did you come from?" would be appropriate if one previously asked the other party for, say, country of origin, and the response did not include that information. It's reiterating the request.

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