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I found this sentence in the book Artemis Fowl 2: The Arctic Incident:

Whether he escaped or not, the LAPD would be visiting evety dwarf in the city come sunrise.

I guess it means "when sunrise comes," but is it correct? And is it common usage?

PS: I'm a non-native speaker who never saw this kind of phrase before, and when I Googled “come sunrise” no explanation turned up.

  • To me, the only interesting thing about this (perfectly common) usage is that I can't explain why a comma is unnecessary/unlikely before OP's come sunrise, but it seems to be unavoidable if we replace that by, say, come what may. – FumbleFingers Feb 14 '16 at 13:58
  • Well.....I never saw this expression before and Googled nothing out. So come + subject is a very common usage? Okay, I'll try Googling it again. – user155624 Feb 14 '16 at 14:05
  • Another idiomatically common one is come hell or high water. – FumbleFingers Feb 14 '16 at 14:06
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    @WS2 We hear it a lot in the US, but here it does have a tinge of affection (of what, it's not clear, it's not as clearly British as saying cheers instead of goodbye, but it's still clearly imitative of something; Wild West cowboys, or old-school Hollywood stars who spoke in Mid-Atlantic, maybe?). Anyway, short story: Americans would understand it immediately and wouldn't find it that novel. – Dan Bron Feb 14 '16 at 15:26
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    Possible duplicate of What does "be it" mean in this passage? – tchrist Feb 15 '16 at 4:01
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Yes, it's common enough, but probably counts as idiomatic these days. The simple way to understand it is just come Sunday= When Sunday comes (as in the song Seventeen Come Sunday), but that's not quite right, as witness the fact that in your example it stands for 'when sunrise came'. I believe it to be one of the remnants of the subjunctive. There is a family of similar idioms, Come grief, come hell or high water and come what may to indicate unshakable determination; the French for the last is Advienne que pourra, bringing out the subjunctive that is not clear in English.

  • I don't know if the LAPD can conduct searches and make arrests in the middle of the night, in France the police would have to wait until 6:00 and we'd say dès l'aube. Given the context, come sunrise might indicate an inescapable fate. Duels used to take place at dawn too. – chqrlie Feb 14 '16 at 20:06
  • I don't see how a concessive subjunctive could explain "Come Sunday". The concessive subjunctive in "Come grief, come hell etc" has the sense "Even if grief or hell should come". "Even if Sunday should come" doesn't make any sense. – rogermue Feb 15 '16 at 6:35
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"Whether he escaped or not, the LAPD would be visiting every dwarf in the city come sunrise."

"I guess it means 'when sunrise comes,' but is it correct? And is it common usage?"

Yes, your understanding is correct, and in American English it is in common enough usage that it would be immediately understood by anyone. Google NGram shows a spike around the turn of the last century (just before 1900, that is) and then a more recent rise towards the year 2000.

"Come Sunrise" is also the name of a musical album by Rita Hosking.

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It is a disadvantage that in English the verb without ending has so many uses: infinitive, 5 forms of present tense, present subjunctive, imperative, and if the past participle has the same stem form as the first as in come/came/come it can even be a past participle.

This disadvantage has as effect that in some cases it simply is unclear which form it is.

The expression "come+time" is a when-indication. Longman's DCE has in come no. 30 the examples: come July/next year/the next day. There is even a sentence:

  • Come spring, you'll have plenty of colour in the garden.

In my view "come" is no present subjunctive in the sense of wishing. That would make not much sense. "come" is a past participle, and a very shortened form of "when July/spring has come". Probably derived from an absolute with-construction, eg With Troy distroyed Aeneas set off for Italy. In such with-constructions "with" can be dropped so that we have noun + participle. And we may guess that in a very frequent when-indiction the participle was placed in front:

  • "With spring come" shortened to "spring come" and then "come spring".

A pity that Longman's DCE gives only examples and the sense, but doesn't say which verb form it is.

It is possible to compare the English expression to French: Une fois Décembre venu, nous aurons de la neige. Word-for-word translation: Once December (has) come, we'll have snow. The French might also say: Venu Décembre (Come December).

It is interesting to see how dictionaries explain this "come". Oald: preposition. Oxford COD: subjunctive. MacMillan: preposition. Merriam-Webster:subjunctive. No dictionary has a feeling that a subjunctive makes no sense.

Added: In answer to @siride, comment 5. - You are right, the expression "come+time"seems the only expression with that structure. It is a very frequent when-indication and I don't find it astonishing that there is only one such formula. Same case with ago. We only have one such pseudo-preposition after a noun, derived from a verb form agone. I find it very improbable that "when spring comes" should be transformed into "when spring come (without -s), and then in "come spring". Such a series of transformations has no logic and I doubt that speakers would have the idea for such transformations.

  • "come" is not just a past participle; it's also quite clearly the present stem as well. Moreover, this kind of sunjunctive pattern exists elsewhere idiomatically in English: "should he arrive early, I'll have to send someone else", where the word order is VS(O), same as in the OP's example. It can be replaced with "if he should arrive early,...", in much the same way that "come sunrise" can be replaced with "when sunrise comes". Your alternative explanation is unnecessary and not supported by any historical facts. – siride Feb 15 '16 at 6:03
  • @siride 11 Well, it's your view. I don't see any logic in "Should Sunday come" . One historical fact is French Venu Décembre. And also Latin absolute constructions with participle are historical facts. – rogermue Feb 15 '16 at 6:20
  • It's not "my view", it's the reality of how conditionals work in Germanic languages (which is where you should be looking, not French). In German, for example, you can usually take an "if SUBJECT VERB" construction and turn it into "VERB SUBJECT". This was also true in Old English, and, as I clearly showed, in a restricted way, it remains in Modern English. – siride Feb 15 '16 at 18:03
  • Furthermore, your proposed alternate wording is not commensurate with the actual alternate wording. You can always replace "come morning" with "when morning comes". It's a conditional. That's the natural replacement. An absolute is not called for here, because the clause is dependent on the main clause. With an absolute construction, the opposite is actually true -- thus the name "absolute". – siride Feb 15 '16 at 18:05
  • If it's an absolute construction with the past participle, then I'd expect to see some other verbs do it, no other ones do. I cannot think of a single other situation where we'd have past participle followed by subject. We have plenty of examples of a non-past participle being used (my modal verb examples, etc.). The sole place you are arguing from is that "come" can be present or past participle. That ambiguity is not worth basing an argument on. If any other verb had been in this situation, your answer wouldn't have even been posted. – siride Feb 15 '16 at 18:08

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