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There is a bird on the lawn that I think must be a nightingale come over on the Cunard or White Star Line.

(The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, emphasis added)

Isn't it better to write "there is a bird on the lawn that I think must be a nightingale that come over on the Cunard or White Star Line."?

Is this common in native writing? Or speaking?

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2 Answers 2

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'come' here is not a finite verb, but a past participle used as an adjective modifying 'nightingale'. The original sentence could be expanded as:

There's a bird on the lawn that I think must be a nightingale that is come over on the Cunard or White Star Line.

The unusual thing about this sentence is the use of the past participle 'come' as an adjective for the person (or nightingale) that came. This usage of 'come' is now considered archaic. See: He is come. In standard modern usage, you would have to change it to:

There's a bird on the lawn that I think must be a nightingale that has come over on the Cunard or White Star Line.

Note that 'that is' can be optionally removed here, whereas 'that has' cannot be removed.

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    Or, alternatively, "a nightingale that came over". Aug 31, 2018 at 5:59
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In this case come is not a finite verb but a participle. If you want to paraphrase the clause it heads as a relative clause you should cast it in the perfect construction:

. . . a nightingale which has come over on the Cunard or White Star Line.

In grammatical fact, however, this is an adjectival use of the participle. Today we rarely use the participles of intransitive verbs adjectivally—the adjectival participle is usually passive in sense. But at one time the perfects of verbs of motion were routinely expressed with BE rather than HAVE, and the participles acted simultaneously as perfects and predicative complements.

Joy to the world! The Lord is come.

This use still survives in expressions like "John is gone."

Fitzgerald's use is paralleled in Hamlet:

There needs no ghost, my lord, come from the grave / To tell us this

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    "John's gone" isn't a great example, because the "'s" could be either "is" or "has"...
    – psmears
    Aug 31, 2018 at 13:44
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    Interesting! In German "Ich bin gekommen" (literally "I am come") is of course regular and required usage. Aug 31, 2018 at 14:31
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    @MichaelKay Yes, and in French, too. German of course doesn't have the passive implication with SEIN; I wonder if this might have contributed to its retention. Aug 31, 2018 at 14:38
  • @psmears Good point -- I'll fix it. Aug 31, 2018 at 14:39

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