Two sentences:

We should go see a movie. (1)

*We should have gone see a movie. (2)

The first is correct, the second is incorrect. Why can we omit the word 'to' in the first but not the second?

A simpler example is this: You can say "We go see the movie," but not "We went see the movie."

I am not asking about the meanings of these sentences. I know what they mean. I'm asking why it is possible to omit the word 'to' when 'go' is in the present tense, but not in the past.

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    Surprise or regret: We sometimes use should to express surprise or regret about something that happened: -I’m amazed that he should have done something so stupid. — I’m sorry that he should be so upset by what I said. dictionary.cambridge.org/it/grammatica/grammatica-britannico/…
    – user 66974
    Commented Aug 25, 2021 at 8:17
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    It's not just go: "You should come see me" but not "You should have come see me". Commented Aug 25, 2021 at 13:19
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    @PeterShor "You should have come see me" sounds ok to me Commented Aug 25, 2021 at 14:18
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    "You should have come see me" sounds like old-movie mobster speak to me. I'm hearing it said with a New York Mafia drawl. Commented Aug 25, 2021 at 15:12
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    Technically, "We should go see a movie" is wrong (though it's been too many years since I was in school, so don't remember why), and should formally be "We should go to see a movie". Informally, though, it's fine. That's why "to" must be in your second sentence.
    – RonJohn
    Commented Aug 25, 2021 at 17:16

6 Answers 6


Great question. This construction, sometimes called a serial verb construction, mainly works for "go" and "come" (at least in conversational mainstream American English; some other dialects/languages use serial verbs more widely).

It is often used in the imperative, and can be paraphrased by adding "and":

  • Go get me a towel. (roughly equal to: Go and get me a towel.)
  • Come finish your dinner. (Come and finish your dinner.)

It can also be used to talk about potential future activities (We should go see a movie or Let's go see a movie). It seems not to work as easily in the past or present (unless "do" is used):

  • *I went got you a towel. ("I went and got him a towel" is OK)
  • *I am going getting you a towel. (rather: "I am going and getting you a towel")
  • *He goes gets her a towel. (rather: "He goes and gets her a towel.")

More examples here.

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    Thanks I guess I have to stop asking why Commented Aug 25, 2021 at 15:38
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    The historical reason probably relates to the meaning conveyed by the construction. Pullum (1990) is one linguistic discussion of the construction that may be of interest: kb.osu.edu/bitstream/handle/1811/82130/…
    – nschneid
    Commented Aug 25, 2021 at 15:49
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    I would imagine that ‘go’ is linked to the other verb by rection, not agreement, so even when ‘go’ is inflected, the other verb should stay an infinitive. The examples should read ‘I went get you a towel’, ‘I am going get you a towel’, ‘He goes get her a towel’, which are much less obviously ungrammatical (if at all). Commented Aug 26, 2021 at 8:44
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    I'm willing to stake my life on the claim that no native English speaker has ever used the construction "I went get...". You simply cannot omit the 'to' in such a phrase.
    – Tom Sharpe
    Commented Aug 26, 2021 at 9:39
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    @TomSharpe Maybe not, but the answerer here further transforms it to ‘I went got’, contradicting even the example in the question title. This is a reply to a strawman. Commented Aug 26, 2021 at 10:00

The former sounds correct in spoken English, although sounds American to my British ear (i.e., the construction "go see" sounds American). The latter sounds unnatural, although could be rendered "We should have gone to see a movie" or "We should have gone and seen a movie" and then sound natural.

In formal written English, the former sentence should really have 'to' or 'and' before the verb 'see'. I have no evidence for this, but I believe that the commonality of the construction 'go to [verb]' has led in (primarily American) English to the omission of the word 'to'. My guess is that, since other tenses of the construction (e.g., 'have gone to [verb]' or 'went to [verb]'), while still grammatical, are less common, the omission of 'to' sounds odd.

The plot thickens: To my great surprise, I found myself uttering the following spontaneous phrase to my (BrE) wife last night: "Why don't you go brush your teeth?" Later, I asked her what she thought of the phrase "Let's go see a film" (I said 'film' rather than 'movie' so as not to prejudice her), and she also thought it sounded a bit American. But I think it actually might be that we don't 'see films' in the UK; rather, we 'watch films'. So perhaps the construction 'go see' is not the Americanism, but the phrase 'see a (movie/film)'.

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    Why are these constructions less common in the past though? I'm not sure 'go see' derives from 'go to see' in the way you suggest. Words don't just disappear for no reason like that. Commented Aug 25, 2021 at 12:37
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    It sounds American to my BrE ears as well. This sort of construction always reminds me of the song title "Is you is or is you ain't my baby". FWIW "We should have gone seen a movie" sounds no more or less "correct" than "We should go see a movie" IMO.
    – alephzero
    Commented Aug 25, 2021 at 18:34
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    @BenjaminGrange Words do "just disappear" in spoken English dialects. "We should go and see" could naturally mutate into "We should go'nd see," "We should go'n see" and "We should go see".
    – alephzero
    Commented Aug 25, 2021 at 18:38
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    "has led" (past tense of 'to lead'), not "has lead" (a dense metal) Commented Aug 26, 2021 at 3:51
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    They both sound vaguely American to me, although the former was made famous in the film Mary Poppins, much loved by many Brits. Still, the film was actually an American creation, despite being set in London.
    – Tom Sharpe
    Commented Aug 26, 2021 at 9:36

The full phrasing, without leaving out any words, has an infinitive form:

We should go to see a movie.

Leaving out "to" and just using the verb "see" is OK, but it is chopped phrasing. If you want brevity, leave out both "to" and "go":

We should see a movie. We should watch a play. We should eat dinner.

All of these can be filled out, unnecessarily, with "go to do" or "go do" phrasing:

We should go eat dinner. We should go to watch a play.

For something (not) done in the past, you can use the phrase "have gone" and use the full infinitive -- if you are emphasizing the "going" action -- or just use past tense:

We should have gone to see the play. We should have gone to play tennis.

We should have seen the play. We should have played tennis.

The use of "go" in all its forms in these sentences is really unnecessary, but common. It puts an emphasis on (or at least includes) the movement or travel part of the action of the sentence, rather than just the ultimate action -- see, eat, watch, play.

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    I'd agree that the missing word is 'to' rather than 'and', since the former implies going with the intent of seeing, while the latter implies two separate activities.
    – Frog
    Commented Aug 27, 2021 at 21:31

I have been thinking about this issue since you posted it yesterday, and in particular I've been thinking about why, something I don't see other answers addressing (yet). Keep in mind that linguistics is a science, and as such needs to explain what we observe, so flatly saying "this is wrong" doesn't cut the mustard.

That said, natives seem to agree that "we should have gone see a movie" is worse than "we should go see a movie". And the latter does not work in all varieties of English. So we need an explanation for why this is.

The best explanation I can think of is this: There are the verbs come/go which may conjugate, and have participles etc, like many other verbs. Separately, there are also the verbs come/go which are always infinitive (either bare infinitives or to-infinitives) and which are subject to serialisation. This second pair of verbs are homonymous with the first pair, but they are not the same words, since they have different syntactic properties.

Others have posted before me, saying that the construction sounds distinctly American. I would agree with that assessment. I could hazard a guess that these verbs are more common in the New World because of influence from African or maybe Asian languages (these areas have languages where serial verbs are much more common), but I'm not sure of this. Wikipedia claims it's survived from Early Modern English, but does not cite a source.

  • It likely is from an older version of English. Counterintuitively, NA English tends to be older than BrE in general, with BrE being more influenced by French, Spanish and German. Exceptions to the oldness include some new spellings that were intentionally done by Webster to differentiate... but even those trended more towards old forms by dropping French influenced 'ou' in favor of 'o' in words like colo[u]r, valo[u]r, etc... The US 'Midwest' also has a very neutral accent for some of the same reasons. Everywhere has an accent of course, but it lacks many of the strong tells others have.
    – ttbek
    Commented Aug 26, 2021 at 14:26
  • en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… Covers this particular difference. All the differences are quite interesting and some of them on the BrE side irritate NA speakers like myself as much as we irritate BrE speakers :P They cite web.archive.org/web/20140219223829/http://… for the difference, but say nothing of the origin.
    – ttbek
    Commented Aug 26, 2021 at 14:59
  • Ah, you were looking at the serialization article, but they do cite a source, Tallerman, M. (1998). Understanding Syntax. London: Arnold, pp.79–81. I found the 3rd edition of book here: pdfslide.net/reader/f/…, it says: "Finally, if the serial verb construction seems exotic, note that something similar was common in sixteenth century English (the time of Shakespeare). An example would be Come live with me and be my love; constructions of this type have also survived especially in American English, as in Let’s go eat! for example."
    – ttbek
    Commented Aug 26, 2021 at 15:02
  • The first of the two quotes can be found published in 1599: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Passionate_Shepherd_to_His_Love The second doesn't seem specific enough for me to Google-fu the source.
    – ttbek
    Commented Aug 26, 2021 at 15:08
  • That settles it. The construction was present this side of the pond as well, and much more common way back when. So why did it "die out" here, and live on there? I don't know the answer exactly. Perhaps under influence of other migrant languages it lived on in NA. And I don't think that any other European languages do this, so maybe the prescriptivists put an end to it here in the UK. Commented Aug 26, 2021 at 15:25

I think this is related to the much-debated question: Does society influence language or language influence society?

I think what you are witnessing at the former sentence is "society influencing language" as native English speakers tend to use it in their daily conversations, more of an informal usage. So it sounds grammatically wrong to a new learner, maybe sounded wrong to a native speaker years ago.

On the other hand, the latter also sounds grammatically wrong to a new learner. And this time, it sounds strange or even wrong to say it in daily conversations. As a result, it is not approved.

In conclusion, society altered present but not the past or future :)


Both are equally incorrect

The former should be "go to see", or slightly less formally "go and see". Colloquial American English often omits both. You won't often hear this in Britain though, except as influenced by American phrasing picked up from films/TV/internet, but Brits will understand it well enough.

And with that in mind, Brits will understand the latter equally well too.

Neither is truly correct English grammar though, in either American or standard English.

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    What's your basis for saying it's incorrect when native speakers of all kinds will understand it without issue, and most will use it too? Commented Aug 26, 2021 at 4:56
  • I completely agree with this answer. As an Indian I am accustomed to British English - and though the OP's examples would sound all right (albeit informal) in spoken word, I would probably flinch a bit if I see them in a formal context like in a news report. It's somewhat similar to 'gonna' or 'wanna' - one doesn't use them in something that needs to be precise in grammar.
    – TRC
    Commented Aug 26, 2021 at 5:10
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    @curiousdannii That's the difference between grammatically correct according to the rules; colloquially used as part of a local dialect; or "with a bit of effort we understand what you were trying to say". This falls between the second (for Americans) and the third (for everyone else). "Correct" would mean it follows the rules of English grammar (at least for some version of English), but it doesn't.
    – Graham
    Commented Aug 26, 2021 at 6:41
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    @Graham do you have the formalised list of rules of AmE grammar to check that?
    – Tim
    Commented Aug 26, 2021 at 8:33
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    This is a massively unhelpful answer because it conflates two different things. Have gone see is ungrammatical in AFAIK all varieties of English: that is to say, no native speaker would say it, and if they heard it they would think it an error or said by a non-native speaker. Go see is fully grammatical for some speakers of English (not all), but is "incorrect" according to many people's social judgment. You're free to regard them both as "incorrect", but "equally"? Absolutely not. The incorrectness is different in kind, not in degree.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Aug 27, 2021 at 16:46

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