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  1. You don't get such wonderful opportunities too often.
  2. You don't come by such wonderful opportunities too often.

What's the difference ?

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  • I'd say "Such wonderful opportunities are hard to come by". FYI I'm not a native speaker. – learner Oct 20 '14 at 16:21
  • Probably not much difference. But more context is really needed. In my mind "come by" indicates a more passive action compared with "get". – user3169 Oct 20 '14 at 18:54
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There is no difference in their meaning in the examples provided: wonderful opportunities are rare ... wonderful opportunities present themselves rarely...one does not happen upon wonderful opportunities often.

"Get" is by far the more common.

But the two locutions could have very different connotations in other circumstances.

How did you come by that fancy camera? versus Where did you get that fancy camera?

"How did you come by" could be understood to be an insinuation that the person with the camera had obtained it illicitly, whereas the question "get" is neutral; the questioner who uses "get" might well expect an answer such as "My uncle gave it to me as a graduation gift".

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  • I find the change in "connotations* in your example sentence is due to the differences in phrases: how did you versus where. To me, How did you get that fancy camera can be just as much a non-neutral insuation as using come by in the same sentence. – user6951 Oct 30 '14 at 15:00
  • But can you make "come by" neutral? – Tᴚoɯɐuo Oct 30 '14 at 15:09
  • Hi, TRomano, in my part of the woods, How did you come by that fancy camera is just as neutral as if one used get. The same seems to me for the sample sentences in the ODO. – user6951 Oct 30 '14 at 15:13
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    When the questioner uses "How did you come by {something}?", there is the implication that something unusual went on, not necessarily illegal; such things are not easy to acquire. "How did you get...?" does not have such implications. The ODO has manage to acquire. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Oct 30 '14 at 15:17
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    Based on the ODO, I conclude that come by means more like manage to get, thus come by implies an explanation (but not necessarily an insuation) that is not (always?) implied by get. I guess get such a fancy camera asks for an explanation. Thanks for your help! – user6951 Oct 30 '14 at 15:23
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To answer your question, the difference is in the Grammatical Mood of the words. The word get as used here implies an Indicative mood, meaning that the statement is a fact. The phrase come by, on the other hand, implies an Inferential mood, meaning that the statement is a possibility but doesn't completely confirm itself as fact.

To illustrate, consider the ownership of an apple. You could reasonably come by an apple without actually acquiring possession of it, even though it is strongly implied that you did. To get an apple, on the other hand, you must acquire, have acquired, or be expecting to acquire it; there is no ambiguity about its possession.

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  • -1 Get and come by are near synonyms. There is no change of mood in the OP's sentences. – user6951 Oct 30 '14 at 15:26
  • @CarSmack the words may be synonyms, but they do indeed reflect a subtle change in grammatical mood. The full implications of that mood may vary from locality to locality, but that doesn't change the fact that there is a difference. – Omnidisciplinarianist Oct 31 '14 at 18:14

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