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For these expression which of these two came to/came up to should I use

In the morning he came / came up to me and said that.......

I forgot my phone in the cafetaria in the afternoon. I realized that when I came / came up to the elevator.

Can anyone please explain the difference between came to vs. came up to?

  • In both the examples, I would use a different verb: reached me in the first case, and was in the elevator in the second case. – kiamlaluno Feb 24 '13 at 11:37
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    @kiamlaluno I don't think I'd say "In the morning he reached me and said that...". (If this sentence is possible, I'd interpret it as "reaching" me on a phone.) I would say "I realized that when I was in the elevator", but it doesn't mean the same thing as the OP's example. – snailcar Feb 24 '13 at 12:36
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I would say that came up to means roughly the same as approached (that is, move into close proximity with):

She came up to the window and asked to buy four tickets.

whereas came to can be used to mean arrive at:

I remember the day the veterinarian came to our farm and brought the bad news.

Obviously, there is some overlap between the two, because when you move close to something, you are also arriving there. Because of that, I would say that you could always use came to, but you wouldn't necessarily always be able to always use came up to without a possible slight shift in meaning. For example, in my second sentence, if I were to say:

I remember the day the veterinarian came up to our farm and brought the bad news.

that might imply something different. It could imply the doctor walked up along the road and stood at the fence (as opposed to in the original sentence, where it's easier for me to imagine the veterinarian in the kitchen). Another possible interpretation after adding the word up is that the veterinarian came from further away – in other words: I remember when the veterinarian came up [from the city] to bring us the bad news.

However, if I said:

She came to the window and asked to buy four tickets.

that pretty much says the same as the original, because we approach a ticket counter in the same way we arrive at a ticket counter.

As a footnote, these usages don't include more idiomatic uses of came to, such as:

  • I heard the trivia question on television, but it wasn't until I was driving in my car an hour later that the answer came to me.

  • The boxer was unconscious on the mat for a few seconds before he came to.

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Came up to means approached or walked up to; it is used in contexts where one person is stationary (sitting or standing) and another person, on foot, approaches, comes up to or walks up to them. This expression would be appropriate for your first example. I disagree with kiamlaluno: reached me would not be a suitable synonym here, at least not in North American English.

Neither came to nor came up to is the best choice for your second example; neither is kimalaluno's suggestion (was in). The best verb phrase is got to the elevator, or, more formally, arrived at the elevator. Both of these show that you had arrived at the elevator but had not entered it yet, whereas kiamlaluno's rephrase means that you were already inside the elevator when you made the realization. Both came to and came up to are unnatural because, at least in the short text provided, there is no implication of here that would require the use of come. However, I would also suggest that kiamlaluno`s mistaken suggestion for the first example sentence would be an appropriate replacement verb phrase here: reached the elevator.

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come up to means walk really close to the object and stand next to it. Come to is a generic synonym to arrived at location.

He came to my house

that means he went inside, maybe visited me, or maybe talked with my neighbors, or maybe hung around making photos.

He came up to my house

That means he stood next to the wall. Say, he wanted to check the paint on the wall, or read the address plate. He definitely didn't enter the house, just stood outside, next to it.

In most context the two will be synonymous, you come to a person when you come up to them - that's two different phrasings of the same action, with slightly different connotations (you come to a friend, you come up to someone you want to punch them) but in some contexts they will be different - "coming to" will mean getting there for practical purposes, be it visiting, talking, using, shopping. Coming up to means stopping next to it.

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