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A church roof collapsed in USA. A person who actually saw it fall in tells about how it happened. He says:

"Came right down onto the church." BBC- (See 00:28-00:32)

I can't really understand why he says "....onto the church", because nothing came onto the church. Actually it is the church that came down onto the ground, isn't it?

As a non-native speaker, when I hear someone says "Came right down onto the church", the following takes place in my mind:

1- I visualize something in the sky fell down and it fell down on the roof of a church. (But in reality there is nothing coming from the sky onto the church.)

2- Also, a question forms in my mind, because the sentence doesn't have a subject. So, I ask myself: What is it that came right down onto the church? Is it a bird? A plane? Or something like that in the sky? (In reality, I know that the church itself is the subject, but it seems like an object in the sentence "Came right down onto the church.")

To sum up, why can't I figure out this sentence structure and visualise something else in my mind other than what happened in reality?

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    At the beginning of the video we see the spire break and fall. Perhaps the spire came down onto the nave, and that's what this man meant. (The spire being the tall thin tower, and the nave being the main hall in the church.) But that's only a guess.
    – Stef
    Commented Jan 27 at 11:08
  • Well, JamesK had the same interpretation as my comment, so that makes at least two :-p
    – Stef
    Commented Jan 27 at 11:10
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    He is talking about the steeple of the church, it collapsed and came down onto the rest of the church building, destroying it. You can see this at the start of the video. Many old churches consist of two parts, a steeple (a tower, sometimes with a spire, often contains a bell) adjoining the main nave of the church (the central part of the church). see an example
    – Billy Kerr
    Commented Jan 27 at 12:39
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    The best way to understand "Came right down onto the church" or other similar sentences which omit the subject is to supply "it", "something", or the thing just mentioned as the subject: "It came right down onto the church". It's very common in informal speech. (Most often "I" is the implied subject, but here that doesn't make sense.) The rest of the question is sophistry: church can refer more or less to different parts of the building or even the people and contents of the building.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jan 27 at 16:08

2 Answers 2

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It just is a matter of how this particular person conceives the "church" and the "steeple".

In his personal mental model, there is a church building, rather like a hall. and the steeple, which is built on top of the church. Another person may conceive the steeple as being part of the church. But in the moment of speaking (and probably influenced by the fact that the initial failure was in the steeple) he thinks of the church and the steeple as separate. So he says "[the steeple collapsed] onto the church".

The omission of the subject is non-standard, (it is a mistake or some kind of "headlinese"). He probably means "It came right down onto the church." It's not so rare to hear this kind of thing in speech: "Tell me about your day. -- Nothing special. Went shopping"

Don't overthink this. This was not a careful or planned speech. It is just a little idiosyncrasy of how he talks.

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  • Was Mr Jingle's style of speech 'headlinese'? "Terrible place – dangerous work – other day – five children – mother – tall lady, eating sandwiches – forgot the arch – crash – knock – children look round – mother's head off – sandwich in her hand – no mouth to put it in – head of family off – shocking, shocking. Commented Jan 27 at 13:01
  • "headlinese" isn't quite the right word, but I couldn't find a better one for this manner of speaking. At any rate, it isn't "standard English"
    – James K
    Commented Jan 27 at 13:08
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    That sort of utterance is very common indeed in relaxed, informal conversation, and speaking to a reporter can fall into that category. Whether that counts as 'standard English' or not, I don't know. This site shows that many learners of English are often surprised that native speakers do not always speak like grammar books. In short, that written and spoken English can be very different beasts. Commented Jan 27 at 13:16
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    Continuing the "don't overthink it" point: It's even conceivable for someone to understand "part A" as integral to "the whole, B," and still say "A fell onto B" as a shorthand for "the rest of B." Meanwhile, I'm reminded of a children's hand game that starts "Here is the church / here is the steeple..." Commented Jan 27 at 20:22
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Came right down onto the church.

has an implied subject roof.

The roof came right down onto the church.

By church, the speaker means the internal space.

Church is not the object of the verb; it is the object of preposition onto.

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