Encoding of goal-directed motion vs resultative aspect in the COME + infinitive construction

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Abstract

The verb COME followed by an infinitive signals goal-directed motion (“He often came to visit me”) or completion of a process (“She came to expect the worst”). In the former case, COME is used literally (‘move close to’), the infinitive encoding a clause of purpose. In the latter, COME is used aspectually (‘end up (V-ing)’), the infinitive encoding the resultative notion of culmination of an event. Concordances from the Bank of English online show that the aspectual sense of COME is more common than the literal one, and that while the former is associated with verbs denoting deliberate actions, the latter is instantiated with verbs denoting involuntary experiences. However, in specific syntactic environments (embedding of COME under “how” or “why”) the construction activates an aspectual interpretation (‘decide, happen, come about’) even when the infinitival complement refers to a voluntary act. Also, while the matrix clause can combine with auxiliaries and morphological markers to encode temporal-aspectual distinctions, it is preferentially encoded in the simple present, the simple past or the present perfect tense. Overall, the data suggests that the aspectual meaning of the COME + infinitive construction is typically associated with the presentation of complete events seen as ‘unintentional consequences’.

Corpus Linguistics

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