Word War: Come vs Go

When you tell people to move from one place to another, do you tell them to come to or go to that location? In 2016, I was assigned in Tacloban City to take care of our training there. One day, we were at the pantry during our break, and I was eating some sandwiches with a coworker. He saw our trainees outside the training room, and it was almost time to go back so he told them, “You can come inside the room.” My eyes twitched at his words as I muttered as surprised “what?” with confusion painted on my face.

“I told them to come inside the room,” he said.

“Yes,” I responded, “but you are here—right in front of me.”

“It’s okay,” he smiled. “I allow them to come inside the room during breaks.”

“That’s not the point,” I whispered, “you can’t say ‘come inside the room’ when you are here with me.”

He frowned at me and said, “I don’t get it.” And that’s when I realized what was going on.

Come and go are just one pair of verbs that most people get confused with, especially by a people who speak English as their second language. Other than having the same basic meaning, come and go normally have only one equivalent in other languages: for example, in Tagalog, both come and go are “punta,” and in Hiligaynon, they are both “kadto.” The lack linguistic distinction between these words adds to the confusion. So how do we know which word is more appropriate to convey our message clearly? The basic difference is the direction of the movement.

We use come to show movement toward or in the direction of or the speaker itself. For example, “Will you come over for dinner tonight?” or “Mom wants you to come over on Saturday.”  The verb go is used to describe movement away from the location of or the speaker itself, as in “Can you please go to the other room and get the files?” or “We’re going to Spain this summer.”

It is noteworthy that we say “come here” instead of “go here” and “go there” instead of “come there.” However, when we talk about another person (someone who is neither the speaker nor the listener), we can use either come or go, depending on the speaker perspective. For example, the speaker sees things from the listener’s viewpoint, come is a perfectly fine word to use: “John will come to your party this Saturday” (because the speaker uses the listener’s location as his point of reference where the movement of the action is headed). If the speaker sees things from doer’s viewpoint, go is appropriate: “Gina will go to the post office this afternoon” (because the speaker uses Gina’s location as the origin of the movement of the action).

Simply put, in general, come expresses movement from there to here, and go express movement from here to there. I hope this helps clarify certain points of confusion so we can express ourselves clearly and avoid any miscommunication.

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