Are You Coming or Going?

Central Park Horse-drawn Carriage                    New York City, Horse-drawn Carriage   photo by M.W.Snider

Recently I said to one of my students, “I came to New York.” He asked why not, “I went to New York”?

I explained that because he was in New York, “came” emphasized the relationship between us. I had come to his city.

However, when I was preparing for my trip to New York: I was getting ready to go.  And, I told my friends here in Colorado that I was “going to New York.”  I used “come” when I was ready “to come home.”

Whether an English speaker chooses “coming” or “going” depends on the relationship between the speaker and listener.

Q.* So, are you coming or going?      A.* It depends where you are and who’s asking!

Consider the perspective of a coworker asking, “Are you coming to work?” versus a non-coworker asking, “Are you going to work?”  The coworker wants to know if you are coming to join them at work.  The non-coworker wants to know if you are leaving them to go to work.

Note: The physical location of the person asking the question will establish whether “coming” or “going” is used.

  • If a non-coworker has stopped by your place of work and you aren’t there, they may call you and ask, “Are you coming to work today?” This is because they are AT your workplace and when you come to work, you would be coming to them as well.
  • If you and a coworker are at an event and they see you getting ready to leave, they may ask, “Are you going into work?”
“We’re going to grab something to eat!* Wanna* come?”

The sentences above show another common way to use coming and going.  Coming in this example means, “coming along” (with the group).

Talking about going to parties (or other events) is a little trickier.  When someone says they are “going to a party,” this can mean they are “going to go” or “planning to attend.”  Although, when someone says they are “going to a party” they could also literally be en route to the party.  “Going” can mean on your way.

Remember my trip to New York?  I told my friends that I was “going” to New York weeks before I left.  “Going” meant “planning to go.”  However, when I called my son to say goodbye, “I’m going” meant that I would soon be boarding the plane.

“Going Steady” by St. John Publications

Returning to the party discussion, when a group is on their way to a party and they ask, “Are you coming?” They could be implying, “Are you coming with us?”, OR they could be asking if you are planning to attend the party.  So, how do you respond?

Be careful!  If you aren’t planning to attend, there IS a safe answer here! If you say, “No.” or, “I’m not coming,” it could be interpreted as you aren’t coming along.  The better answer is, “I’m not going.”  Which clearly means you aren’t going to the party and not that you don’t want to join the group.

Michele MVE 02 Icon 80 Percent JPEG

 Thanks! Michele

Please let me know if you have English use questions, and don’t forget to subscribe to My Virtual English blog!

4 thoughts on “Are You Coming or Going?

  1. Very interesting thoughts on ‘coming and going’. I have never given such extensive thought to whether I was coming or going. I wonder if I should even start, since I’m ‘so far down the road’?

    1. Very clever reference to your age Loretta! For English Language Learners: being “far down the road” gives the impression of having traveled a great distance. This expression is sometimes used to talk about the amount of progress we have made on a project (e.g. “I don’t think we can switch consultants now, we are too far down the road.”). The expression can also be used to talk about our age, like Loretta did above. Loretta is a 77 year old retired nurse turned author. You can find her books here
      Thanks! and be sure to let me and my readers know if you COME UP WITH any answers! Thanks, Michele

  2. There is another occasion when the phrase ‘coming or going’ relates to someone ‘spinning his/ her wheels’ or ‘going on circles’. On that occasion, the individual is expressing his/her frustration and inability to complete a task as she or he planned.
    Another excellent example, Michele, why your blog has enormous value. Keep up the good work.

    1. Thank you for pointing this out! Guy is referring to the expression, “I don’t know whether I’m coming or going.” This is defined in the Cambridge Dictionary as “being in a very confused state”! The Grammarphobia Blog says the expression came into use in the early 20th century.
      They say, “Here’s an example from The Hamlet of Stepney Green, a 1959 play by the British dramatist Bernard Kops: “What with one thing and another, I don’t know if I’m coming or going.”

      Are there any other thoughts (from anyone)?

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