LINGUIST List 5.1091

Fri 07 Oct 1994

Sum: Go+verb

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. , SUM: go+verb constructions

Message 1: SUM: go+verb constructions

Date: Tue, 4 Oct 94 15:48:53 +01SUM: go+verb constructions
From: <>
Subject: SUM: go+verb constructions

A while ago I asked for information on the semantics of the 'go+Verb'
construction in English. I received three replies. Since they do not
really overlap I decided to include them in full in this "summary".
Once again, many thanks to Ralphael Salkie, Annabel Cormack and Tamara
Al-Kasey for their useful help.


In my native dialect (north of Pittsburgh south of Erie Pennsylvania),
there is another use that you missed; the "go" has no going implied:
What did you go and do that for?
You went and broke it.
cf He up and did it.
My impression is that it expresses deliberateness
Of course, I have an odd "go" dialect where gonna and going to are
differentiated semantically.
Tamara Al-Kasey
Carnegie Mellon University
Pittsburgh Pa

*************************From: Annabel Cormack From:

1. "go bare-Verb" is not British English, and is American English
2. "go verb-ing" must involve selection, though not necessarily by
"go"; I have
 go blackberry picking
 *go picking blackberries
but maybe the last is OK in AmEng. So I assume there is some
-ing form which is not a Case-assigner, and this is selected. I
suspect that the selection IS by "go", which would than have to
assign Case, because the rest is not like an 'adjunct' as in
 Bill went (out) whistling a song.
3. "go and tensed-verb". I have a recent (joint) paper which gives
an account of the syntax and semantics in terms of subordinating
conjuction, and the unaccusativity of the ordinary "go". Let me
know if you would like a copy.
4. In addition to the use under (3), there may be another useage,
which is like the "try and Verb" construction.


There are a number of constructions including the one you mention (go and
verb) which deserve investigation. These include:

go verb
go and verb
go verb+ing (We went drinking but *We went eating)
come verb
come and verb
come verb+ing
take NP verb+ing (I took my son drinking but *I took my soon eating)
have a (noun based on a verb) (have a drink but *have an eat)
take a (noun based on a verb) (take a walk)
try and verb

The first two and the last one were discussed by Guy Carden and David Pesetsky
in a paper called "Double-Verb Constructions, Markedness and a Fake Co-
ordination" in Chicago Linguistic Society Papers 13, 1977, 82-92.

Two papers with more transparent titles are:

Gabriele Stein, "The phrasal verb type 'to have a look' in Modern English".
IRAL 29.1, Feb 1991, 1-29.

Anna Wierzbicka, "Why can you have a drink when you can't *have an eat?
Language 58 No. 4, 1982, 753-799 (Also in one of her books of collected
papers, I think).

The go drinking construction is discussed in:

Clare Silva, "Adverbial -ing". Linguistic Inquiry 1975, 346-350.

Dwight Bolinger, "The jingle theory of double -ing". (This is in the Haas
Festschrift, I think, pp 41-56. I'll track down the full reference if you
want it).

Dwight Bolinger, "The go-progressive and auxiliary formation". In F. B.
Agard et al (eds), Essays in Honor of Charles Hockett. Leiden, E.J. Brill
1983, pp 153-166.

I worried about this construction some years ago, and made one discovery and
had one insight, neither of them very remarkable.

The discovery.

The go drinking construction is very rare in written English. In the written
corpora I have searched, it occurs very rarely indeed, and there are also very
few occurrences in the LOB corpus. I hope that the British National Corpus
will be more revealing when it is available later this year. What is
interesting is that there are two distinct uses for this construction in
British English, one the "expeditionary" use (as Bolinger calls it in his
jingle paper), and the other as in:

Don't go taking sweets from strange men

Where the action expressed by the verb is seen by the speaker as pejorative.
(I ignore here examples like "John went marching down the street" and "Bill
went singing to his death" where any verb could be used instead of GO). In
the small corpora I have looked at the pejorative "taking sweets" examples are
MUCH more common than the expeditionary use which the references given here
concentrate on. Can anyone test this on a larger corpus?

The insight.

Silva's paper notes that the -ing form of the verb rarely allows an object
after it: Sue's gone hunting for bears but not *Sue's gone hunting bears.
She notes one exception: with the verb visit she accepts "I'm going to go
visiting sick friends/relatives/old classmates". Her proposal is that the -
ing form of the verb here is adverbial, hence cannot take an NP complement.
But since the restriction on objects is not absolute, a syntactic explanation
is too strong, I think.

Now, restrictions on objects of this not-quite-absolute kind were discussed by
Paul Hopper and Sandy Thompson in "Transitivity in Grammar and Discourse"
(Language 56, no 2, (1980), pp 251-299). They claim that low transitivity (ie,
a reluctance to take an object) often correlates with a cluster of other
properties, including low agency and atelic aspect. They also claim that the
foreground-background distinction is at the heart of the other properties,
with backgrounding being linked with low transitivity.

I couldn't find any of the other specific properties of low-transitivity
constructions to be at all relevant to expeditionary go, but backgrounding may
be pertinent. It may be that this construction is typically used to say in
general what activity the speaker engaged in. More specific details, if
required, would tend to be given using normal narrative structures. Here
again more examples from a large, partially spoken, corpus would help test
whether this insight is worth developing.

Raphael Salkie,
The Language Centre,
University of Brighton,
Falmer, Brighton,
BN1 9PH England

Tel: (0273) 643335 (direct line); (0273) 643337 (Language Centre Office).
Fax: (0273) 690710

ps. I mention the "take NP drinking" construction in the list at the top here
because it seems to have the same restriction as "go drinking" and "have a
drink" - namely, substituting eat for drink is bad in all three. The
transitivity restriction is also the same: I took my daughter hunting for bear
but not *I took my daughter hunting bear.

Another thought: I have found that some native speakers (I recall that
Richard Coates was one) do not have any restrictions at all of the kind I have
mentioned, and are perfectly happy with "We went eating" and "I took my
daughter hunting bear").
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue