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I learned that "I feel a toast coming on" is equivalent to "I propose a toast".

I'm curious about the grammar of the phrase "I feel a toast coming on".

S1 feel S2 V+ ing equals to S1 feels that S2 is coming?

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up vote 8 down vote accepted

It's playful use of language—almost a joke. "I feel a toast coming on" echoes the following old and familiar expression:

I feel an illness coming on.

I feel a headache coming on.

I feel a cold coming on.

I feel an attack coming on. [An attack of an illness, such as an allergy or epilepsy.]

I feel a sneeze coming on.

I feel a seizure coming on.

I feel a fever coming on.

Notice that the expression primarily pertains to illness. It suggests that the illness is overcoming you against your will.

People have playfully applied the phrase to a number of other things, suggesting, partly as a joke, that their desire to do something is like an illness overtaking them, forcing them to do something against their will:

I feel a song coming on. [I feel a spontaneous urge to sing a song right now.]

I feel a speech coming on. [I feel a spontaneous urge to make an impromptu speech right now.]

As with "I feel a headache coming on", these suggest that the person is going to sing their song or make their speech right away: just as if it were a headache, they cannot volitionally prevent the song from occurring. It also playfully suggests, just a little, that needing to give the speech is a sort of illness—something wrong with them, but something that they (and you) must tolerate. With a song, I there's less suggestion that the the listener won't enjoy it, though that element of the analogy can be played up.

"I feel a toast coming on" is just a variation of "I feel a speech coming on."

So, to answer your question: No, "S1 feel S2 V+ ing equals S1 feels that S2 is coming" is not a general grammatical equivalence in English. It only makes sense if you want to draw a parallel with the way you feel the onset of an illness.

However, it is generally true that quirky English grammatical constructions work by drawing parallels with older, familiar expressions, usually adding some new twist or variation to suit the present situation. This is why English grammar does not submit well to being characterized by exact rules, and why it takes so long to learn. You have to get acquainted with the familiar expressions that the variations refer to.

Note that the word "on" is necessary. "Come on" is a phrasal verb: both words are needed. "Come" by itself does not mean the same thing.

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@CopperKettle Yes, "I feel a song coming on" makes sense in place of "I wanna sing." I don't know for sure, though. Does the wolf mean only that he feels like singing, or does he feel overcome with a spontaneous urge to sing, which he can't help but succumb to even if he tries to prevent it? – Ben Kovitz Jan 19 at 5:06
@CopperKettle Ah, then "I feel a song coming on" is a good fit! (Thanks for explaining it: сейчас is one of the few Russian words I know. Or used to know…) – Ben Kovitz Jan 19 at 5:10
@CopperKettle I just listened to some of the Gorillaz song. There is probably a connection between "The future is coming on" and the illness expression, but it sounds like "The future is coming on" is intended to mean the end of something unpleasant: "I'm useless but not for long: the future is coming on." It's hard to tell for sure, though. The connection is that "coming on" (in this sense) in general means "inexorably starting to manifest itself": a storm is coming on, the night is coming on, the day is coming on, winter is coming on, your favorite TV show comes on at 8:00, etc. … – Ben Kovitz Jan 19 at 5:24
… @CopperKettle Also: "coming on strong", meaning working hard to persuade someone, making oneself hard to ignore, exerting a strong influence, etc. The word "feel" is needed for the suggestion of illness in "I feel an X coming on", because it refers to the subtle way you feel within your body that something unpleasant is starting to happen. But certainly "I feel an X coming on" draws upon the general meaning of "coming on", as found in "the future is coming on", "winter is coming on" etc. "The future is coming on" suggests that a radical world transformation is now starting to occur. – Ben Kovitz Jan 19 at 5:33
@Paul I agree: With "song", the analogy with illness is weaker. With "speech" or "toast", there is a suggestion that the speech isn't going to be pleasant, mostly because people usually don't like speeches. I'll edit to clarify. – Ben Kovitz Jan 20 at 12:14

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