The construction GO + V + ING is among one of the first things a learner is taught. Take for instance the verb swim, very often English expresses the activity in the present simple like this:

I go swimming twice a week

This construction is used with any ‘outdoorsy’ or sport activity that employs a verb, such as:

He goes skiing whenever he can
She goes dancing with her friends.
We go walking every day
They go surfing at/on weekends.

The verb GO is inflected to express different tenses such as

He didn't go swimming.
She's going fishing in the morning.
We went bowling last night.
He'd gone hunting before.
They've just gone rock climbing.

Shopping and drinking seem to break the mould, they are neither sports nor games, but you can think of them as being “outdoor” or pastime activities. You can go drinking with your mates, and while many Italians believe lo shopping is only the activity that young girls do in boutiques; people also go shopping for food etc. And nowadays, we go shopping online.

They've gone shopping.
Let's go drinking.

But GO + V + ING for the following activities is “ungrammatical” or dubious at best:

  1. *I go playing tennis regularly. (maybe this one's OKish)
  2. *You go working twice a week.
  3. ?Let's go criketing/baseballing/basketballing (etc.)
  4. *He goes cleaning his car at/on the weekend.
  5. ?She goes painting outdoors every Sunday.
  6. *You go washing up after dinner.
  7. *Let's go eating out.
  8. *Let's go seeing a movie.


  • What is the origin of GO + V + ING? When was this construction first noted?
  • Is this construction becoming increasingly flexible in English speaking countries?
  • Are the expressions go shopping and go drinking considered isolated/unique cases? I am particularly interested in hearing about activities that are unrelated to sports/games/outdoors but use GO + V + ING.
    For example, @pazzo's suggestions: gamble and window shop.
  • 1
    'Now, don't you go climbing trees in those clothes: you go and change.' I hear.
    – Hugh
    Commented Jun 21, 2015 at 7:33
  • 1
    @Hugh I did mention "go rock climbing" :)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jun 21, 2015 at 7:52
  • 1
    @Mari-Lou_A, Sure, I was just adding a negative inflected form.
    – Hugh
    Commented Jun 21, 2015 at 8:26
  • 1
    I see this usage to be for leisure time activities that one leaves the house to do: gambling, caroling, sightseeing, people watching, trick-or-treating, model airplane flying, cow tipping, horseback riding. That some leisure activities can also be competitive sports does not alter this. Someone competing in Olympic skiing is not 'going skiing'. Rough guide: you play sports and you do yoga, karate, etc. Play golf (golfing) seems an exception. All the -ing ones are also verbs: I golf, I drink, I gamble, I window shop, I bird watch, I horseback ride, I rock climb, (non -ing forms).
    – pazzo
    Commented Jun 21, 2015 at 8:34
  • 1
    Go cricketing/baseballing seems perfectly fine to me. So does go tennising, except for the fact that tennis isn't normally used as a verb. Commented Jun 21, 2015 at 9:01

3 Answers 3


The origin goes back to Old English, as far as the year 1000 or earlier (according to OED). OED gives OE (Old English) for the date section of the two earliest citations.


With participle indicating a concomitant action or activity.

Earliest citation:

Þa eodon hi sprecende ymbe þæs hælendes þrowunge him betwynan.

Ælfric of Eynsham, Catholic Homilies

Other examples in chronological order are: (OED)

  • eodon biddende, OE
  • eode singuynde, c1300
  • go wryȝinge, c1380
  • go hippinge, c1430
  • go walkyng, 1483
  • went preachyng, a1535
  • wente askyng & serchyng, 1548
  • go begging, 1615
  • went looking about, 1658
  • Went prancing, 1719
  • went mumping, 1775
  • went dancing, 1841
  • went sailing, 1895
  • went rushing down, 1930
  • went sprawling, 1988
  • went sniffing, 2013

OED mentions that the above definition is the formally similar sense of the following definition:

intr. To move, travel, or proceed (to somewhere) so as to perform a specified action, or for the purpose of a specified or implied activity.

    f. With verbal noun or gerund.

        (b) Without prefixed particle.

The earliest citation is from a1500:

Euery-on an hauke on honde ber, & went haukyng [c1330 Auch. riden on haukin] by þe ryuer.

Sir Orfeo, Harley

Other examples in chronological order are: (OED)

  • went hunting, 1658
  • have gone hunting and hawking, 1672
  • go Hunting or Hawking, 1707
  • go shooting of Birds, 1749
  • goes gunning , 1846
  • went gambling, 1861
  • ‘go clamming’, 1887
  • went automobiling, 1915
  • went fishing, 1933
  • going camping, 1960
  • go clubbing, 2003

OED also gives:

(a) With prefixed a (also †on) Now arch. and regional.

The earliest citation is from c1300:

Þis child scholde wende An hontingue.

St. Kenelm (Laud) 148 in C. Horstmann Early S.-Eng. Legendary


It looks like this construction was first being used for actions, and then extended to activities. In OED, the earliest example with an outdoor activity is "go walking" (if we exclude the constructions with prefixed a). Then, we start seeing examples like "go hunting" starting from 1500s as sport-like activities. Although, the earlier form is with prefixed a. (go a hunting).

We are more familiar with this construction for sports and outdoor activities but it can be used with other leisure and indoor activities like bowling, shopping, dancing, clubbing etc.

  • What sports? It does not work for sports. Perhaps only golf, which is also a leisure activity.
    – pazzo
    Commented Jun 21, 2015 at 20:32
  • @pazzo: englishpage.com/gerunds/go_gerund.htm
    – ermanen
    Commented Jun 21, 2015 at 23:36
  • english.stackexchange.com/questions/253849/…
    – pazzo
    Commented Jun 22, 2015 at 0:45
  • Could you give the modern English for the first four examples you cited, please?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jul 23, 2015 at 14:27
  • Went sprawling, though it looks as if it fits in the list, really doesn't: falling over does not imply intention, rather the reverse. Commented Jul 23, 2015 at 15:37

“To go hunting” derives from an older form such as to go a-hunting. Wiktionary has an article on this a-gerund under the headline a- -ing.

Wiktionary says this prefix a- was the form on. I'm not so sure. Theoretically this prefix might derive from various prepositions at, to, on, in. Originally the word formation was a- + gerund with the unambiguous ending -ing(e), Old English -ung/-ing. Later on, when the original ending of the present participle changed from ende over inde to inge both endings developed the same form and today, at least in most textbooks, these forms are seen as participles, though gerund would make more sense, as such forms are parallel to German

  • Wir gingen zum Jagen—literally: "We went to the hunting".

Later this prefix was no longer used except in some dialects and in poetry where an archaic effect is sought.

  • Go a-surfing sounds Pythonesque. Commented Feb 23, 2018 at 12:06
  • @EdwinAshworth because they wanted to make it sound old. Commented Jul 6, 2018 at 6:54
  • etymonline.com/word/on#etymonline_v_7013 one of the older meanings of on was "in" or "into", denoting direction rather than just position, and it's fairly common in compounds, such as ahead (toward the front, forward) or aloof (toward the wind's direction). Commented Mar 10, 2023 at 8:40

First noted?
Gone fishing and Gone fishin' are in use as far back as the NGram goes.

...and here's the King James Bible (1611) for John 21:3

Simon Peter saith vnto them, I goe a fishing. They say vnto him, Wee also goe with thee. They went foorth and entred into a ship immediatly, and that night they caught nothing.

translating ‘Υπάγω ‘αλιέυειν vb + infinitive vb 'I-go to-fish.


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