On Going

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It is a curious fact about English that ‘We went drinking’ is a normal thing to say, but ‘We went eating’ is not (for most speakers). This fact was noted several decades ago, but never investigated systematically. More recently, Anna Wierzbicka noted that you can say ‘We had a drink’ but not ‘We had an eat’, and proposed an explanation based on the semantic properties of the ‘have an X’ construction. Her explanation does not extend to ‘We went drinking’, though it appears that the same factors are operating in the two cases. No one seems to have noticed that a third construction behaves in a similar way: ‘We went for a a drink’ is fine but not ‘We went for an eat’, and that ‘I took him drinking’ also contrasts with ‘I took him eating’ in a parallel fashion. This paper looks carefully at the way these constructions behave, using a large database of examples from the British National Corpus (BNC) and the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA). The most common verbs in the ‘We went X-ing’ construction are identified, and the construction is shown to be very different from the apparently similar ‘We went screaming down the street’ and the (mainly American) ‘I’ll go look for her’. Drawing on the innovative but unfortunately neglected notion of ‘transitivity’ proposed by Hopper and Thompson, a novel explanation is proposed which generalises across all the constructions that allow drinking but not eating.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDistinctions in English grammar: offered to Renaat Declerck
EditorsB. Capelle, N. Wada
Place of PublicationTokyo
Number of pages22
ISBN (Print)9784758921541
Publication statusPublished - 16 Oct 2010


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