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With most English verbs (apart from modals), if you want to put another verb after it, you have either put "to" in front of the verb or use the gerund (if such a construction is even acceptable). For example:

want to eat

like to run / like running

However, for a few verbs, this is not necessary:

Go fetch me some water.

Come eat some food.

Now, they don't necessarily have to be used in commands. For example, you could say

He needs to go fetch me some water.

They should come eat some food.

But in any case, those verbs cannot be used in the ordinary present tense:

*He goes fetch me some water.

*They come eat some food.

The first sentence is jarringly incorrect. The second sentence sounds unusual, albeit not as bad as the first, but it's probably still wrong.

It seems that these verbs can only be followed by another verb directly if the first verb is used in the infinitive or imperative. Can someone give a good linguistic explanation for why this is the case? Is there a name for this phenomenon? Are there any other examples of such verbs besides "come" and "go"?

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    I think I've heard the term "catenative verb" applied to these. Edit: Never mind, it's too broad. Verbs followed by "to" and another verb are also considered catenative. You want the name of a subset of catenative verbs. – herisson Aug 22 '15 at 6:44
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    Expressions like go fetch and come eat may be used around the wide English diaspora, in dialects etc., but in Received English the proper form is go and fetch me some water, come and eat some food. And you are quite right that he goes fetch me some water is not grammatical. One would say he has gone to fetch me some water, or he is going to fetch... etc. – WS2 Aug 22 '15 at 8:10
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    Grammarians often refer to them as "small verbs"; the implication is that they're in the process of change -- they're not really regular verbs any more, but they're not quite auxiliary verbs yet, either. Most of their meaning is bleached out, and they're each associated with a number of idioms, especially serial verb constructions, but there seems to be no single systematic pattern for their use that's evolved yet. See the various constructions cited in this freshman grammar exam question (#4 on the page). – John Lawler Aug 22 '15 at 13:41
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    @WS2: It was well established before the Revolution. Shakespeare: Come, let’s go make us ready. Go get a dishclout to make clean your shoes. — ToS ... I will go make an end of my dinner.— MWW ... I will go tell him of fair Hermia’s flight.— MND ... Fielding: I must go give some orders about a particular affair.—*Miser* ... Farquhar: And then—we shall go make my master’s bed? ... Throw off your livery this instant, and I’ll go find a parson.— Beaux’ Strat – StoneyB Aug 22 '15 at 18:59
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    @WS2 The only reason I can think of is that you're not hungry. – StoneyB Aug 22 '15 at 21:37
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Bare infinitive are placed after certain verbs like "please, let, can, bid, dare," and certain verbs of perception like see, hear etc. Auxiliaries are also used in the same fashion. However, they don't create the impression as in the post.

The examples here are found more in spoken English than in the written English. That day is not far off when the usage referred to would earn a name in grammatical vocabulary. Until such time we are more inclined to call such usage a 'kind of invitation/ command/ request' very much in the nature of imperative mood; only difference is that two sentences are joined without any linker, not even a marker and not confirming to any known rules.

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The only other example that I can think of is "try" (Corpora Gallore: Analyses and Techniques in Describing English), but such usage is not very frequent, apparently dialectal, probably colloquial, and most likely considered nonstandard and ungrammatical to most native speakers.

The "try (bare infinitive)" construction is normal (albeit probably considered colloquial) in some dialects, including the one spoken where H0ly lives (somewhere in Lancashire, England). It's unusual-sounding to most speakers of American dialects, but I've encountered the construction a few times from English-speakers elsewhere (not just England). Smack Jeeves

Hope this helps.

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Come and go in these instances have an understood infinitive following them.

Go to fetch me some water becomes Go fetch me some water.
Come to take me away becomes Come take me away.

  • This doesn't seem to be the case. Inserting a "to" completely changes the focus of the sentence, from the fetching to the going (and it sounds bizarre). The meaning is preserved by instead inserting "and", or by dropping the first verb entirely. – Wlerin Sep 18 '18 at 16:41
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Adding "and" works everywhere.

"Go and fetch (me) some water."

"Come and eat some food."

"He needs to go and fetch (me) some water."

"They should come and eat some food."

Likewise the sentence "Come sit down and eat" makes sense with a comma as so: "Come, sit down and eat".

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    Hello and welcome to EL&U. Can you please elaborate? I don’t see how this provides the “linguistic explanation” the OP asked for. – Lawrence Sep 18 '18 at 13:03
  • This was one of my first thoughts as well, though I'm not sure what it means for the question. Not saying it doesn't mean anything, just that it needs further development. – Wlerin Sep 18 '18 at 16:26
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Your examples are imperatives. Proper grammar would be: 'Come. Eat.' -or- 'Come and eat.' 'Come eat.' has suppressed the 'and'. (cf "Come 'n eat.") Are there any example verbs besides 'come' and 'go'? {You wouldn't say 'Sit eat.'} The examples with control verbs, such as 'I like to run' or 'I like running', use an infinitive or a gerund because the object of the verb 'like' must be a noun - in this case a hypothetical event.

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Per Xalorous, 'to' could work instead of 'and'. By making 'to fetch' the direct object of '[to] go', the reason for going is made clear. The stored memes are: [you] [to] go @(you to fetch water), and [you] [to] fetch @(some water). However; this only works because 'come' and 'go' have no normal direct object {except the implied self}. In "Isaac shook the branch to get an apple", the memes are: Isaac did shake @(one branch), and Isaac [probably] did get @(one apple). These 2 memes are probably only linked temporally; not by any 3rd physical link.

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In a comment, John Lawler wrote:

Grammarians often refer to them as "small verbs"; the implication is that they're in the process of change -- they're not really regular verbs any more, but they're not quite auxiliary verbs yet, either. Most of their meaning is bleached out, and they're each associated with a number of idioms, especially serial verb constructions, but there seems to be no single systematic pattern for their use that's evolved yet. See the various constructions cited in this freshman grammar exam question (#4 on the page).

protected by tchrist Sep 18 '18 at 12:34

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