Reading about intellectual history and the history of natural science, I have very often come across the expression to come-to-be as a synonym for to come into being, to start to exist, to originate, and so on.

I also see commonly used such verbal expressions as to come to know (for to learn, to acquire knowledge of) or to come to see (for to realize), and so on.

My question now is twofold:

  1. If one is allowed to write to come-to-be and to come-to-know and to come-to-see, is there some definite end to this or am I allowed also to write to come-to-converge, to come-to-acquire, to come-to-X?

  2. If I am allowed also to use other combinations, then what about the dashes/hyphens in these expressions. I usually see come-to-be with dashes, but the to come to know without (I think). Why is that so? Should one be consistent? Or has to come-to-be become a lexical entity that warrants a particular use of dashes, whereas the other expressions are simply compound verbs that do not warrant an equal use of dashes? What about "to-come-to-converge` and other less usual instances of such combinations?

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    Do you really mean you frequently see these terms with hyphens? I don't recognise the usage at all. Jul 5, 2015 at 17:25
  • Because you highlight hyphens, I am not sure whether you just want to alert me that I misused a technical term or whether your question is an honest one. If the latter, then, yes. There is a work by Aristotle that is usually (and virtually exclusively) referred to as "On Coming-to-be and Passing-away". In discussions about this text, I often see that things "come-to-be" and even that they "pass-away". Due to that fact, I myself always wrote "to come-to-be", so that I now asked my question about the limits and justification of such a habit. Jul 5, 2015 at 17:31
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    I'd say that your Aristotle context is highly specialised. That link shows 81 (mostly hyphenated) instances citing what I assume is a specific translation. A much smaller proportion of these 1150 more general references to the text include those hyphens, even though they all denote exactly the same (highly specialised) thing. Jul 5, 2015 at 17:50
  • Alright, thank you. I take it that this, now, gives me an answer. I can (or even: should) keep come-to-be with hyphens and employ other compound verbs without hyphens. Jul 6, 2015 at 11:47
  • Well, I'm no expert, but I've just had a cursory glance at what I assume is the original translation. My guess is if Aristotle were writing in English*(or even *being translated for the first time) those two "neologistic-multi-word" terms wouldn't be used anyway, since conceptually they're much the same as what we now refer to as the creation/anihilation of virtual particles in quantum field theory. Jul 6, 2015 at 12:20

1 Answer 1


"Come" + to-infinitive or "come" + "to be { participle}" are lexical expressions or approximations of inchoative and perfective verbal aspect.

Verbs in English are not inflected for aspect, so these meanings have to be made by phrases.

The dashes are unnecessary and irrelevant.

How did he come to run (or 'to be running') down the street?
--What set him in motion?

How did it come to be placed on the mantel?
-- What led to its being placed on the mantel?

  • But isn't the come in those expressions part of the idiom "How did X come to" and not "come to be running"? Jul 5, 2015 at 14:18
  • @Peter Shor: I don't understand what you're asking there.
    – TimR
    Jul 5, 2015 at 14:26
  • I'm saying that you wouldn't say "it came to be placed upon the mantel", in the same way you would say "she came to believe that", "he came to be aware that", "she came to realize that", "he came to think that". But maybe I'm wrong about this. Jul 5, 2015 at 14:53
  • @Peter: You'd certainly say it in contexts like What I want to know is how it came to be placed upon the mantel. But probably not in contexts like It came to be placed there because the butler likes to keep things tidy. Jul 5, 2015 at 17:29

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