From this question, I was just wondering, what is the difference between "leave" and "go" in terms of the same definition of "departing", and when do we use one, but not the other.
For example, which verb should I use in the following sentence?

Tell me when you [go/leave].

If it is leave, why is it so, and what determines which to use at what time?

I googled this, but there were no discussions or articles on the difference of usage between leave and go.

  • A quick NGram search shows mostly something after "tell me when you go" as in "tell me when you go out" and not after tell me when you leave. Another difference is "Tell me when you go to work" and "Tell me when you leave for work"
    – mplungjan
    Jul 4, 2011 at 12:59

2 Answers 2


You could use either in this instance, but "leave" is the more accurate term of the two: "Go" refers to the whole journey whereas "leave" is the act of moving away from the current location - the beginning of the journey.

  • +1 because you're right that leaving focusses on the act of moving away from current location. But going can be to do with the with just about everything else - including the journey, the destination, or even just the fact that after you go, the current location might be empty. Jul 4, 2011 at 13:33
  • Very good points. I think what I was trying to get across is that "go" is ambiguous in meaning whereas "leave" is more specific
    – Waggers
    Jul 4, 2011 at 15:10
  • Absolutely. OP doesn't give any useful context, but I imagine someone on the security desk at the entrance to an office, where you're effectively being asked to "sign out" when you leave. In which case leaving [this building] is the specific matter of interest, not the more general-purpose going [somewhere else]. Jul 4, 2011 at 15:32

In the example you made, the only difference I see is that leave could mean the person is not returning back. One of the meanings of leave reported by the NOAD is "depart from permanently."

She left home when she was 17 years old.

In "I am leaving home at 3:00 p.m. to go first to the doctor, and then to the hospital," leave is used in reference to the place I am moving from, and go to the place I am moving to.

  • @FumbleFingers, still in these stock phrases (left school, left home, left his/her job, left his/her husband/wife/lover, etc..) such meaning is more easily and naturally expressed than with 'to go' (or 'to go away').
    – Unreason
    Jul 4, 2011 at 14:34
  • @Unreason: I've re-thunk, and will delete my comment. In general leave doesn't particularly imply "and not return" to me, but it is much to be preferred over go if that meaning is required. Jul 4, 2011 at 14:49

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