Some Indo-European languages have a construction called go-periphrasis, by which some form of the verb go is used in conjunction with the main verb to mark tense. Most languages that have this feature use it to mark the future tense, like English (going to), Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and French. Catalan uses it to mark the perfective past. There are probably others, but I could not find any example of the go-periphrasis outside the Indo-European family.

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    Good question. Note also that French uses come to indicate that something has just been finished: je viens de finir me devoirs. I have never seen this construction with come in another language.
    – Cerberus
    Commented Oct 24, 2011 at 16:33
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    Ack, and did I type me there? I am the sloppiest typer ever: of course that should be mes. Perhaps it was assimilation because I was thinking about de: de => me?
    – Cerberus
    Commented Oct 25, 2011 at 20:08
  • @Cerberus English has the use (but a different sense) in come to pass, I am coming to see that..., *How Tom came to kill the Gyant" Commented May 15, 2014 at 18:19
  • @StoneyB: Right, Dutch has that exact same construction too. But, as you say, it has a different meaning and a different preposition.
    – Cerberus
    Commented May 15, 2014 at 22:02
  • @Cerberus Come to think of it, we've also got off with a gerund in the French sense: "She's (just) coming off beating Jankovic in straight sets." Commented May 15, 2014 at 22:14

2 Answers 2


The use of motion verbs to mark tense and/or aspect and/or modality is very common across the world's languages, both as part of serial verb constructions or as auxiliary verbs.

Below are some non-Indo-European language examples.

Sùpyìré, Niger-Congo family. Serial verb construction with the verb 'go' indicating futurity:

(1)  Zànhe sí dùfugé    kɛ̀  ɛ̀  gɛ̀     
     rain  go maize.DEF spoil
     "The rain will spoil the maize."

Bambara, Niger-Congo family. Here the motion verb na 'come' is used as an auxiliary indicating futurity:

(2)  a   na   taa
     3sg come go
     "He/she will go."

Grammaticalisation of the motion verbs 'go' and 'come' as future markers is common in Bantu languages. More examples in this paper.

Squliq Atayal, Austronesian family, Taiwan. Here we see musa' 'go' used as an auxiliary to indicate irrealis/future:

(3)  musa’ m-nbu’  yaya’  =mu
     IRR   AF-ill  mother =1S.GEN
     "My mother will be ill"

George Lakoff (1993: 218) suggests that the metaphorical basis of describing time in terms of space is biologically determined: “In our visual systems, we have detectors for motion and detectors for objects/locations. We do not have detectors for time (whatever that could mean). Thus, it makes good biological sense that time should be understood in terms of things and motion.”


I'm not sure if this deserves to be an answer in its own right or if it should just be a comment, because I don't think it's exactly what you're looking for. It involves aspect marking instead of tense marking...

Japanese uses the constructions -te-iku and -te-kuru as aspect markers on verbs. When used as verbs in their own right, iku and kuru express 'go' and 'come', respectively. When used in combination with other verbs (with a verb "linker" -te-), they can either retain their original meanings in tandem with the other verb or serve a purely grammatical function. In the latter case, -te-iku expresses a kind of continuation of an action or a state from now on, while -te-kuru expresses actions or states that have been continuous until now. The following examples were taken from this online Japanese tutorial, one of many informative lessons on a website called "Yasuko's Nihongo House"! (Note that kita is the past tense of kuru.)

Kanojo wa (korekara mo) onnade hitotsu de kodomo o sodatete iku.
'She will (continue to) bring up her child by herself (from now on).'

Samuku natte iku.
'It will get cold.'

Kanojo wa (ima made) onnade hitotsu de kodomo o sodatete kita.
'She has brought up her child by herself (until now).'

Atsuku natte kita.
'It is getting hot.'

I have seen these markers glossed simply as -IKU and -KURU in syntax and semantics examples, but Matsuo Soga calls this aspect ingressive aspect in his book Tense and aspect in modern colloquial Japanese.

  • P.S.--If anyone wants to format the examples more nicely, please be my guest! I am definitely not a power user and I couldn't figure out how to get the relevant constructions to be displayed in italics (the asterisks just got interpreted literally in that environment). Commented Oct 25, 2011 at 1:03
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    Done. You can use > for a blockquote, at the beginning of each line. Very interesting answer too.
    – Cerberus
    Commented Oct 25, 2011 at 2:27
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    It's referred to as "ingressive" in "Tense and aspect in modern colloquial Japanese" by Matsuo Soga. If you Google the terms 'ingressive', 'aspect', and 'Japanese' the Google book version of this book should be at the top of the results. Commented Oct 25, 2011 at 14:24
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    @OtavioMacedo Just to add, this aspect is more commonly (in my experience) known as 'inceptive'. Commented Oct 27, 2011 at 22:38
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    I am not an expert on this topic, but I should note that I'm not crazy about either label--'ingressive' or 'inceptive' (+1 @Gaston!) for these Japanese markers, because as I understand it both labels put an emphasis on the initiation of an action or a state. But the sense that is communicated with these constructions is that of continuation, or progression, the distinction between -kuru and -iku having to do with the movement through time being "toward now" or "from now on". That being said, I haven't read Soga's book, and he may have some good justifications for using the 'ingressive' label! Commented Oct 28, 2011 at 12:47

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