Request for feedback: How to use 'come' and 'go' in English


I have prepared the following hand-out for some intermediate EFL students.  I mostly based it on Swan's Practical English Usage.  I would be grateful for any feedback to make it more clear.


In particular, I did away with the distinction Swan makes between 'a listener' and 'a hearer' because it seemed needlessly complicated; I have changed that language a speaker or speakers.  I think it is easier to understand this way, but please let me know if you agree. 


The other change I made to Swan in the 'advanced rules' section was to encourage the usage of come more in #2 than in the other 2 contexts; to my ear, either go or come sounds natural in #1 and #3 (with the exception of occurrences after non-modal verbs in #3 - please see the next paragraph for that complication).  Do you agree?  


I previewed this handout with a private student tonight and as a result of her questions and comments I refined #3 of the advanced guidelines to draw a distinction between modal and non-modal verbs.  This distinction seems correct, but adds a bit of a complicated wrinkle to the hand-out, because it does not seem to similarly apply to the #1 section of the advanced guidelines.  Any help on clarifying and simplifying this point would also be greatly welcome. 




How to use the verbs come and go in English


It can be difficult for second-language students to use go and come correctly, especially in spoken English.  There are some simple rules you can learn which will enable you to correctly choose between these verbs 80% of the time, and some other more advanced choices you can make in other specific situations.

Basic Rules for Come and Go



We use come to describe movement to the place where one of the speakers is:

 Could you come here for a minute, please, Diane?
~ I'm coming.

We've come to ask you if we can borrow your car for a week.

I've got some people coming for a meal tonight. Can you and Henry come too?




We use go to describe movement away from the place where the speakers are:

 Are you going to the pub tonight?

Let's go and see Auntie Mary before the holiday is over.

They've gone to live in Australia and I don't think they'll ever come back.



More Advanced Guidelines for choosing between come and go

1. A speaker’s past or future location

You can use come for a movement to a place where one of the speakers (a) already was or (b) will be at the time of the movement.  Choosing go in this context is also common.

Do you remember that I came/went to see you in Paris when you lived there?

I will come/go to visit you in hospital when you have your operation next week.

She can’t come/go to your barbecue party in Stanley Park on Saturday.


2. Joining a previously-made plan

We usually use come or come with to talk about joining a speaker’s previously-made plan, even if go is used for the movement itself.

We’re going to see a movie tonight.  Would you like to come with us?


We’re going to see a movie tonight.  Would you like to come?



3. Somebody else’s position

When a conversation is about another person (who is not part of the conversation), we can use come for movements of other people who are also not speakers in the conversation to the place where that other person is, was, or will be.  Choosing go in this context is also common, but only following a modal verb.

Mary is in Florida now, and she was disappointed that her husband couldn’t come/go with her.


Bill waited at the restaurant for an hour, but his girlfriend didn’t come. [go would be incorrect here, because it does not follow a modal verb]


She invited John to her birthday party next Saturday in Osaka, but John won’t be able to come.

edited Feb 04 '13 at 11:59 Shawn Mooney Expert

1 answer


Great handout! I'm going to try it out with a student today and I'll let you know if she has questions or needs clarification. 


I think your change to speakers is clearer, especially because the more I understand the rule, the more it seems like a distinction between hearer and listener is not necessary. "Can I come over tomorrow?" is accurate because the movement is to one of the speakers. If it were only correct to use come to join the speaker and not the hearer this statement would be inaccurate. 


In regards to  #2, Joining a previous made plan, both go and come are accurate and a quick corpus search confirms this, but come is more frequent, and I would say more formal. 


I agree with your distinction on #1 and #3 and the clarification about modal verbs only works for #3. 


Again, thanks for the ideas. Now, I need to make some exercises to practice this!

link comment answered Jul 30 at 17:58 Erin Hernandez New member

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