formal and informal language · Uncategorized

The Difference between Come and Arrive and some other Word Pairs

Some examples of words that your teacher finds less important than you

Mary_new word_24.11.14®Mary-EwaS

Many ESL students have a bunch of English words that they are sure they must learn. If I mention one of these words to them, the student gets all excited. A burning light comes into their eyes, as if they understand all of a sudden why they are learning English. At this point I know that the student is in love with this word. They think it’s one of the most important words in the English language ever. However, in reality, it’s just another word. And if it’s only one word, that means there are many other words that you can use.

Before you stop reading this because it all sounds rather stupid, let me explain what I mean by giving you an example.

For instance: I can make a sentence like this: The plane arrives at the airport at 9 o’clock.

I’ve taught many students who instantly “know” that arrive is an important word.

But then they start using it also for: Yesterday I arrived home at 6:30.

Whereas it’s much more common to say that you come home.

So, remember: coming home.

And arriving at the airport. The plane is arriving. The Queen has arrived for her visit to Australia.

Arrive is more formal than come.

come homeShanna Trim

Also compare come and arrive in a figurative sense:

I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m spending too much money on coffee.

The scientists have arrived at the conclusion that there must be many parallel universes.

Now another word pair:

Communicate is a great word. However, in many cases you can and should use talk instead of communicate.

Communicate is formal and includes other things besides talking. You can also communicate with your hands and feet, or in writing.

By the way, now that we’re on the subject of talking, I’ve heard some students say that you should use speak instead of talk when it’s on the phone. This is not true; you can talk on the phone as well as speak.

But speak sounds more formal.

Informal: I was talking to my boss just now.

Formal: I was speaking with my counterpart in Kuala Lumpur.

Correct use of communicate: Employees of different departments usually communicate by email.

Too formal use of communicate: My sister and I communicate once every week. More common sentence: My sister and I phone each other every week.

Move and Its Synonyms

Now let’s also look at some formal words that mean move.

In many cases you can use move, and not more formal synonyms (= words that mean the same), such as transpose, transfer, dislocate or relocate.

You use those last words more in professional language and literature. For instance, a dentist can talk about transposing a tooth. He or she can also relocate it.

You transfer money into a bank account. Goods are being transferred when they are shipped from one place to another.

Dislocating means when something is not in the right place. You can dislocate your shoulder joint when you practise karate (very painful). Or you can dislocate a sentence from an essay and not understand the sentence because it lacks context.

dislocate H Dragon

Dislocated elbow

But when I’m looking left and right, I’m moving my eyes.

When I use my arm, I’m moving my arm. Not transferring it.

When I change the position of my cup on the table, I’m moving it.

Place and Location

The last example that I’d like to show you is place and location.

Location is not a better word than place, it’s just more formal. Location is also used more in business and technical language.

For instance, you work at a certain location.

The pub you go to after work is a friendly place.

So to sum up:

Daily Usage of Word Formal (Professional Use)
Come Arrive
Phone/Talk Communicate
Talk Speak
Move Transpose, transfer, dislocate, relocate
Place Location

In the exercise underneath your task is to decide where you need the more formal word and where you will use the more common word.


Do this quiz online here.

  • Come – arrive

A The son and his dog were eagerly waiting for Father to ____________ home.

B Cindy and Herman _____________ at the airport late, when they found out that the security check would take much longer than they had estimated.

  • Phone – communicate

A I should ____________ the Wangs to invite them to our Friday evening dinner.

B It should be ____________ to all employees that they wear their name badges inside the company premises.

  • Talk – speak

A Could I _____________ to the Department Manager, Mr Drake, please?

B The boys _____________ for two hours after school about some new game on their console.

  • Move – transpose

A Do I need any special software to ____________ rows I’ve created in Excel to a Word document?

B My best friend told me she is going to _____________ to another city.

  • Place – location

A Would you like me to show you my new _____________ after we see the movie?

B The undertaker explained us that grandma’s grave will be situated in a great _____________, overlooking the banks of the river.

2 thoughts on “The Difference between Come and Arrive and some other Word Pairs

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