According to Oxford Advanced Learner's dictionary (10th edition), 'Come' is a transitive verb. Here are the following examples:

  1. [transitive] come to do something used in questions to talk about how or why something happened.

    1. How did he come to break his leg?
    2. How do you come to be so late?
  1. [transitive] come to do something to reach a point where you realize, understand or believe something

    1. In time she came to love him.
    2. She had come to see the problem in a new light.
    3. I've come to expect this kind of behaviour from him.

But Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English (6th) describes 'come to' as a 'Phrasal verb'. Here are the following examples:

come to (phrasal verb)

  1. come to a decision/conclusion/agreement etc to decide something, agree on something etc after considering or discussing a situation SYN reach

    1. We came to the conclusion that there was no other way back to the camp.
    2. If they don’t come to a decision by midnight, the talks will be abandoned

Why are such different opinions? Could you explain these in light of 'A comprehensive grammar of the English language (CGEL)' and 'The Cambridge of the English language (CaGEL)'?


2 Answers 2


No: come is only intransitive

There is an idiom to come to that means per the OED:

intransitive. To revive, recover; esp. to recover from a swoon, faint, etc.; to regain consciousness. Cf. to come to one's senses (or oneself) at Phrasal verbs 2, to come round 6 at Phrasal verbs 6.

  • 2008 I blacked out. When I came to, the windscreen had come in on top of me. — Metro (Nexis) 3 June (Glasgow edition) 1

But all your examples are using to come not with a preposition but with a to-infinitive complement. The OED has this as:

I.4.c.iii. intransitive. With to-infinitive

  • 2012 One night..he came to show me a chameleon he had found. — New Yorker 23 January 63/3

This is extremely common, but that doesn't make them transitive. You can tell they can't be transitive because you cannot transform them into a passive.

It’s also possible to use it with a bare infinitive.

I.4.c.i. intransitive. With bare infinitive. Chiefly in the infinitive. Cf sense I.5a. Now U.S.

  • 1994 He said I ever had an idea for a show I should come see him. — R. C. Reinhart, Telling Moments 36
  • 2007 I have half a mind to call the men in white coats to come take you away. — T. Myers, Hell hath No Curry xxvii. 171

The “passivization” syntactic test is a very good indicator of whether a verb is actually transitive. These are not, and come is not. It is only intransitive.

In comments the asker inquired if they OALD’s example of In time she came to love him is transitive or intransitive, and why they are saying it is transitive. Certainly it is intransitive. You can tell this by using the passive inversion syntactic test (using names of people plucked from the classic Dick and Jane):

  1. Jane loved Dick dearly.
  2. ✅ Dick was dearly loved by Jane.

You can’t do that with catenative verbs that take infinitival complements because they have no syntactic object, no substantive, to promote into subject position for a be + past participle subject–object inversion.

  1. In time Jane came to love Dick.
  2. ❌ To love Dick was Jane in time to come.

As you see, (4) is ungrammatical nonsense. Catenative verbs do not passivize, which is why they are not transitive. Here's another such example:

  1. Dick helped start Jane's car.
  2. ❌ Jane's car was helped start by Dick.

And another:

  1. Dick tried to start Jane's car.
  2. ❌ To start Jane’s car was tried by Dick.

Why does OALD call to come to INFINITIVE transitive when it is not so?

Because they’re working with a drastically reduced set of grammatical constructions and rules in order to target learners. This makes it easier to get started on the language by smoothing over technical complexities. It is a simpler model, but you should not take it too seriously because it has its drawbacks.

For the most part, if a verb is transitive, then you can passivize it in the way I have just demonstrated with no loss in meaning. This fails that test.

There are, however, transitive verbs that fail the passivization test because their inversion means something else, or doesn't mean anything at all. That's a larger subject than we need to get into here.

  • 'In time she came to love him'. Is 'came' here intransitive or transitive? If intransitive with a to-infinitve complement, so why OALD describes it as transitive? Can you throw some light on it?
    – Salman
    Commented Mar 3 at 19:37
  • @Salman That is intransitive because there is no substantive object that can be meaningfully and losslessly promoted into subject position via subject–object inversion using the "SUBJECT VERB OBJECT > OBJECT be + past participle by SUBJECT" passivization rule. I have edited by answer to explain this.
    – tchrist
    Commented Mar 3 at 20:10

Though intransitive in many of its usages, come does have what some consider a transitive usage:

come [transitive verb]

... [I certainly don't accept that 'a child coming 8 years old' is best seen as a transitive usage; EA]

2: to take on the aspect of

  • come the stern parent


The most usual example here is probably the metaphorical expression 'come the old soldier'; 'come the old acid' is perhaps archaic nowadays.

However, I'd see this also as not really a transitive usage, regarding 'the old soldier' as a complement rather than a direct object. Compare 'come clean'. *'The old soldier was come by him' is certainly unacceptable, and as tchrist says, the passivisation test is a very good indicator of whether a verb is actually transitive in a given usage. Not infallible:

'They all had a good time.' ↔ /

'They all had a narrow escape.' ↔ X

  • Hit the link and see section 8 and 13. How would you describe 'come' there? oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/come_1
    – Salman
    Commented Mar 3 at 19:52
  • If Dick became the stern parent, then that doesn't mean that ❌ The stern parent was become by Dick. This shows that become is not transitive there, and I don't think your example with come is so, either. Similarly, just because Krishna is become Death, destroyer of worlds does not mean you can "unpassivize" that such that Death becomes him. :)
    – tchrist
    Commented Mar 3 at 20:12
  • 1
    You’ve come a long way. Commented Mar 3 at 20:45
  • 2
    But a long way could be understood as a locative adjunct. You've come far.
    – TimR
    Commented Mar 3 at 21:18
  • I'd analyse [come to V] as a catenation, different from the simplex verb. 'That's how he came to break his leg.' Compare 'He started to play chess', 'He happened to see Pauline'. Commented Mar 3 at 23:58

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