Why do native speakers say 'Come on in' rather than 'Come in'?

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Today I passed by a restaurant and got attracted to its menu sticking on the window, so I stopped and had a look at it. Then a staff standing at the gate said to me,'We have nice food. Come on in!' I wonder why she said 'Come on in' rather than 'Come in'. I remember when I was partying with a group of friends and another friend passed by, I shouted to her, 'Interested? Come in!' Did I say anything wrong? Should I say 'Come on in'? And why?

OhLook

Posted 2018-01-31T14:08:17.513

Reputation: 796

18“Come right on in” is another variant. – bjb568 – 2018-01-31T22:28:20.297

@bjb568 I've never heard of that. Sounds interesting though! What's the use of 'right' here? – OhLook – 2018-02-01T09:56:57.433

5The phrase "come on" is a strong encouragement to approach or to follow the speaker. – David42 – 2018-02-01T13:01:09.337

5"Right" can mean "immediately" ("it's right now/here"), so it seems to me like an intensifier for the welcoming gesture. – bjb568 – 2018-02-01T16:55:29.017

10I'm reminded of the American game show The Price is Right. Whenever a new contestant is chosen by the announcer, the announcer says something like "<name>, *come on down*! You're the next contestant on The Price is Right!" – Kodos Johnson – 2018-02-01T18:20:55.460

If you would please be so kind as to just step on out – TOOGAM – 2018-02-03T02:33:15.240

1They don't. Only Americans say this. – Marquis of Lorne – 2018-02-03T07:36:53.630

1Most of the answers haven't addressed the question, which also asked whether the questioner was wrong to use "come in!". – JdeBP – 2018-02-04T13:14:02.497

Answers

92

"Come in" is permission, offered to someone who has asked for it (by knocking, for example). Unsolicited, it sounds imperative, or presumptuous; though of course this can be moderated by tone of voice or other context.

"Come on in" is an invitation, much better as an unsolicited offer to someone who may not have been intending to enter. Offered to someone who has presented themselves to your door, it rather conveys that you'd welcome them even if they hadn't asked to do so. And it suggests that they will be joining you in a shared experience, rather than just entering a space for which you are the gatekeeper.

CCTO

Posted 2018-01-31T14:08:17.513

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54I'd go so far as to say "Come on in" goes beyond invitation to encouragement. – Monty Harder – 2018-01-31T18:12:15.027

16And I'd say that "Come in" can be interpreted as a command/instruction rather than merely as permission. – Toby Speight – 2018-02-01T16:11:41.283

6The on is "onward", i.e. encouragement to continue toward the speaker (on as in farther on, pressing on). The tone of come on in is probably in the way its used as much as the words themselves, I think you've nailed it. – Will Crawford – 2018-02-01T19:33:04.310

1@WillCrawford That’s the crucial point. I really think this should be addressed in the answer. – k.stm – 2018-02-03T15:13:09.193

Some languages (e.g. German) have words that "soften" commands into requests ("mal" in German); English doesn't have such a term in general, but this has the same effect in cases like this. – Kevin – 2018-02-03T19:16:39.640

40

"Come on in" has the same meaning as "come in" but is a more folksy way of extending the invitation. It suggests a kind of rural, down-home hospitality that is redolent of (American) TV shows of the '50s, which were ever a myth (although a persistent one) about how friendly people in the hinterland were.

This is an AmE usage, so I wouldn't expect to encounter it in the same way in Britain, though it may be available in some of the many dialects there.

Footnote

For those who can't get past my suggestion that this is a "folksy" expression, note that I said it is "redolent of (American) TV shows of the '50s," not something like "absolutely 100% a hinterland expression."

Also, the fact that it can be used in Britain proves nothing except that the English language is flexible enough to express an idea in multiple ways. The fact remains, the expression is something heard quite a lot in the US, and carries with it enough regional overtones to be describable in that way.

Robusto

Posted 2018-01-31T14:08:17.513

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2You'll hear it in CanE too, although it's a little less common than it is in the US. – Jim MacKenzie – 2018-01-31T14:32:25.973

12I'm not convinced it's a particularly AmE usage. Why don't you come on down/up? and Let's go on over to John's place are as natural in BrE as AmE. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2018-01-31T14:33:00.880

1The heavier you lay on the "American Southern" accent, the more redolent it becomes. :) – Andrew – 2018-01-31T16:43:12.080

11Actually I'm in Britain, and I've heard people say 'come on in' a couple of times. And I'm in a big city, not a rural area. – OhLook – 2018-01-31T17:26:46.163

@ath but by now the permeability of cultural vehicles (media, newspaper, comics, videos, shows, etc) has spread those customs abroad. The local UK tv station that buys an USA show won't spend money dubbing out the AmE quirks, and people catch up. What Robusto gives us is the origin of the custom. – Mindwin – 2018-01-31T18:03:37.057

15It's not about tv shows it's the reverse. It's how people actually speak, the tv shows are about that. "Come in" is a command, and could be considered rude. "Come on in" is an invitation. Somehow the "on" softens it and implies "if it suits your pleasure". – mutatron – 2018-01-31T18:10:10.443

2@Mindwin: How can you be sure that that is the origin of the custom? As opposed to, say, an expression that was common in British English to start with, but whose use has declined in some parts of the USA more than others? I think you'd need a lot more evidence than we've seen so far to be sure of that :) – psmears – 2018-01-31T18:18:17.150

1@FumbleFingers But has it always been natural or has it only become 'natural' because of British exposure to American television. For what it's worth, I find "come on in" tends to be rarer than "come in" (in the south-west of England at least). – Pharap – 2018-01-31T20:08:39.970

13Disagree completely that "come on in" is a rural/hinterland usage and would like to see evidence of that. Google reveals usage by such noted urbanites as Jerry Seinfeld and Charles Bukowski, and the widely used phrase "come on in, the water's fine"; it may be distinctly American, but I don't think it's distinctly rural. – Mark Beadles – 2018-01-31T20:35:50.390

7The earliest attestation of this usage in the OED, from 1873, is from a British novel by a couple of Cambridge grads. Most of the other examples are American, but they don't sound particularly rural. – 1006a – 2018-01-31T20:43:58.407

In some parts of Scotland, the variant "come away in" is used - sometimes followed by "you'll have had your tea?" :) – Laconic Droid – 2018-01-31T21:05:27.920

@psmears i don't. but it makes a nice question for ELU – Mindwin – 2018-01-31T22:49:42.927

2On the south coast of Britain in a very densely populated city (Portsmouth), about 15 years ago there was a radio advert that I have not forgotten with a jingle that went "Come on down to Victory Vauxhall". So the use of 'on' has existed for emphasis or at least as a syllabic aid to songs for a long time in Britain. @Pharap I believe this usage predates common consumption of American TV and film so I'm not really sure its origins lie in AmE. – deed02392 – 2018-02-01T10:55:47.990

@deed02392 "common consumption of American TV and film" was happening in my childhood (in the 70's), and American films were very popular before the war. – Martin Bonner supports Monica – 2018-02-01T12:04:30.480

@deed02392 15 years ago is nothing, American TV and film have been influencing British culture since the early days of hollywood - i.e. well before the new millenium. – Pharap – 2018-02-02T10:53:23.037

1You seem to be claiming that "come on in" and "come in" are essentially the same thing, but "come on in" is informal and American, whereas "come in" is more formal and/or British. I'm not convinced by this. If somebody knocked on my British office door right now, I'd say "Come in!" Are you claiming that a more informal person in, say, the American south would instead say "come on in!"? That seems unlikely to me. – David Richerby – 2018-02-02T16:26:44.707

1I suspect much of this "it's American influencing English" overlooks the fact that much of it started with us, and we moved on differently, and parts of the US speak English in a way that we no longer do - but it's not because Americans invented it :o) – Will Crawford – 2018-02-03T15:26:00.090

@DavidRicherby it does seem (but I'm going second-hand from US television shows here) that "Well come on in" is in use in The South - of both England and the United States. – Will Crawford – 2018-02-03T15:27:15.127

@WillCrawford I've lived in southern England for more than half my adult life and I'd be very surprised to hear somebody say "Well come on in" if I'd knocked on their office door. – David Richerby – 2018-02-03T16:07:49.350

@DavidRicherby that's as maybe; perhaps people in offices don't say it around you. It's well known to me (usually as Well, come on in, then). Granted Google only returns ~11.4k results for that (quoted). – Will Crawford – 2018-02-03T18:02:03.973

In BrE, people are more likely to say "do come in", to indicate encouragement, rather that "come on in". But there's a lot of transfer from AmE to BrE, but rarely the other way around (mainly due to British people consuming a lot of American media) so 'come on in' is also occasionally heard in BrE. – William Smith – 2018-02-05T14:44:24.733

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It is never easy to answer why a particular colloquial phrase is used. It just is. In this case I speculate that "come in" on its own might be thought to be slightly less encouraging than "come on in".

You say "come in" if someone knocks on your door, and in that context it means "you may come in (if you really want to)". Whereas if you want to encourage someone to do something you might well say "Come on!" So "come on in" means "do come in. You are welcome".

But since these are spoken words, you can achieve the same welcoming effect with "come in" on its own by the way you say it.

JeremyC

Posted 2018-01-31T14:08:17.513

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3@Robusto may be right, but Google ngrams shows the phrase peaking in the 1880s. – JeremyC – 2018-01-31T14:24:53.823

What has that got to do with anything? – Robusto – 2018-01-31T14:40:43.350

10There were no TV shows in the 1880s. – JeremyC – 2018-01-31T14:50:28.017

2You didn't say what phrase you meant. Also, it's a phrase heard principally in spoken English, so a search through "lots of books" isn't going to be very useful, one way or another. – Robusto – 2018-01-31T14:59:20.793

Peaks of anything in the 1880s relate to the explosion of printing and so on. Prior to the Gutenberg Bible, everything was hand-scribed on vellum, and I suspect much of the language we inherited was never written down. I'm thus always a little dubious of using “ngrams” to look that far into the past. – Will Crawford – 2018-02-03T15:28:57.663

@Will Crawford You are right. But if it is in ngrams it surely was written down, and that was my point: the phrase is older than TV programmes. – JeremyC – 2018-02-03T23:10:33.573

I see, sorry, you're quite right :) – Will Crawford – 2018-02-03T23:31:39.910

@WillCrawford The Gutenberg Bible predates the 1880s by 430 years! There's a heck of a lot of history between the days of hand-scribed vellum and the 1880s. – David Richerby – 2018-02-04T12:09:03.323

Plainly I chose a bad example :o) but the explosion of printed material that immortalised the language of its time was a bit later (my impression is that prior to ~Victorian times, the variety of printed materials was pretty limited and so would have been the breadth of coverage of everyday language usage). It's been noted many times that printed usage can differ wildly from spoken usage. – Will Crawford – 2018-02-04T12:36:09.533

@JeremyC looking at the actual use of "come on in" in the 1880s suggests that the apparent peak is a red herring; almost all of the uses are in phrases like "may come on in the pre-eruptive stage of small-pox" or "your wife did not come on in Packard's interest". Even examples like "told them to come on in the boat " sound quite different to me, not so much encouraging as emphasizing briskness. – iayork – 2018-02-05T11:03:03.520

8

"Come on" is a phrase of its own used to encourage/invite. (And express exasperation, but that's not a relevant usage to this conversation).

"Come in" is very similar phrase but it used exclusively for entering.

"Come on in" combines the two phrases in order to emphasize the message that the ones being adressed are welcome.

Arcanist Lupus

Posted 2018-01-31T14:08:17.513

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6

"Come on in" is like a welcoming and 'colorful' way of saying "come in". It implies a continuation of what you were doing before. So when someone says "come on" you might say they are in essence saying "continue with what you/we were doing in coming into the " and as others have suggested it is meant as a warm and friendly means of greeting and welcoming a visitor.

I will make note of the fact that it reminds me of other similar phrases that use "on" to imply continuation. "You go on right ahead" and a negative "Get on with you." With this it reminds me of the Spanish "adelante" which people would say to me at the doors of large office buildings in Santiago Chile where I taught English privately. This is simply another languages "continue on" + "going in" for lack of a better way of putting it.

These are like any other colorful expression in that one must use them in the correct moments or else it's possible to sound awkward or foreign as it is usually very obvious to a native speaker that someone is not a native speaker in that they fail more than not in knowing how to use colloquial expressions or slang. You should learn these in the context they're used rather than in a book or online. If you really want to get good with this, I suggest going downtown where there will be a lot of native speakers and pretend to read a book but instead just listen to as much native speakers conversing as you can. Good luck and keep asking questions!

First post here btw. <3

CryptoLisp

Posted 2018-01-31T14:08:17.513

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4

Having been raised in a place where this is more common that the simple 'come in' I think you have to first consider the idiomatic phrase 'come on' first and think of it as an extension or modification of that. 'Come on' in this context has the primary implication of a minimal urgency or impatience. For example:

  • "Come on, let's go" when your kid is throwing a tantrum in the store.
  • "Come on, are you kidding me?" When you have to wait at the same traffic signal through two red light cycles.

So "come on in" has a slight sense of more urgency to it. It kind of suggests "why aren't you already inside?" You might also hear "come on in already". The best way I can explain this kind of phrasing is a sort of ironic pleasantry.

JimmyJames

Posted 2018-01-31T14:08:17.513

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2This is only one facet of the saying, it is also (I'd argue more frequently) more casual and welcoming or inviting. – veryRandomMe – 2018-01-31T21:03:55.870

@veryRandomMe I don't see how this is different that what my answer says. – JimmyJames – 2018-02-01T15:13:54.130

Your example, "Come on, are you kidding me?" can also be used as an expression of incredulousness about a situation or something heard - like when someone says something incredibly exaggerated or even an outright lie, "Come on!" can often be a common reaction equivalent of "I don't believe it/you!" – squidlydeux – 2018-02-02T13:45:51.810

3

Come on is an imperative form suggesting an invitation or exhortation. (Cf. for instance how it appears in the lyrics to Little Eva’s “Loco-Motion”.)

From the Oxford English Dictionary, to come on, 1. b.

imper. Used to urge a person (or animal) to advance towards or accompany the speaker, or (more generally) to continue or proceed with some action or activity.

With in, down, etc., that gives us the related 1. a. (b):

With adverb of direction, e.g. down, in, round. To move or travel onward in the specified direction. orig. and chiefly imper., as an exhortation or invitation, esp. to join someone or to enter or visit a house, room, etc.

Come in, by itself, suggests giving permission to somebody who wanted to come in anyway. It’s what you say when someone knocks at your door. Come on in, though, is an explicit invitation to people who might not have thought of coming in, or might not be sure they want to. It’s what you say when you’re standing outside a shop trying to get people to come in and see what you have for sale. (Or, as in your case, when you’re trying to get someone to patronize your restaurant.) And it’s what you say to someone who knocks at your door but seems hesitant or diffident about actually coming in.

David Moles

Posted 2018-01-31T14:08:17.513

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1

Once you walk through the doorway, you have "come in". But the the focus is not coming into the physical building, but to participate in whatever's happening. The phrase "come on in" has been adopted to refer a more abstract idea of "coming in" to whatever's going on, rather than just coming into the physical location.

Acccumulation

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