The Grammarphobia Blog

From the word go

Q: I have always tried to instill in my children the correct use of English. But they (and all their friends) insist on substituting the word “go” for “say” in colloquial speech: “After my question, he goes, ‘I don’t get it,’ and I go, ‘What’s not to get?’” I would have been ostracized for this in my younger days. Has it become acceptable? Have I become superannuated?

A: Linguists call this usage the “quotative go.” Is it acceptable? Well, it all depends on whom you ask. It drives a lot of parents crazy, but language scholars generally like it.

I recently did a piece for the New York Times Magazine on the use of quotatives, “like” in particular. But “go” is in the same category, as is “all.” (Example: “I’m all, ‘Where’s the car?’ And he’s all, ‘Don’t tell me it’s stolen!'”)

You can find the On Language column on my website. It says in short that quotatives are OK in informal speech, but not in situations requiring your best English.

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