The Grammarphobia Blog

Young Lochinvar is come, or is he?

Q: How does the phrase “is come” differ in meaning from “is here”?

A: As we’ll explain later, the verbal phrase “is come” is simply another, and rather antiquated, way of saying “has come.”

And there’s a difference between “he has come” and “he is here.” The verbal phrase “has come” describes movement, while the adjectival phrase “is here” merely describes a person’s whereabouts.

But let’s get back to “is come.” As the Oxford English Dictionary explains, the perfect tenses of “come” (that is, those requiring an auxiliary verb) originally had some form of “be” as the auxiliary.

So it was once customary for people to say things like “He is come” and “Why are you come?” and “I am come.” Today we would use forms of “have instead: “He has come” … “Why have you come?” … “I have come.”

Here are some examples of this older usage, from citations in the OED:

“The deuell [devil] is come downe vnto you,” from the Coverdale translation of the Bible (1535).

“I am come to sea, / And left my heart ashore,” from Thomas Heywood’s long poem The Fair Maid of the West (1631).

“The Actors are come hither, my lord,” from Shakespeare’s Hamlet (1603).

“O, young Lochinvar is come out of the west,” from Sir Walter Scott’s poem Marmion (1808).

“The curse is come upon me,” from Tennyson’s poem The Lady of Shalott (1832).

And, of course, there’s the opening line of “Joy to the World,” the 1719 Christmas carol: “Joy to the world! the Lord is come.”

Similarly, forms of “be” were used as auxiliaries with verbs like “rise” (as in “he is risen”), “fall” (“the city is fallen to the enemy”), “depart” (“they are departed for London”), “arrive” (“the Emperor is arrived”), and a few other verbs expressing motion.

In modern English, forms of “have” are now used as auxiliaries with those verbs, and the old “be” usages are found only in poetic, biblical, or literary writings.

But we still use “be” as an auxiliary with some verbs of motion, like “go” and “grown.” So today we can say either “he is gone” or “he has gone,” “they are grown” or “they have grown.”

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