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Warsaw Will

Joined: December 3, 2010
Comments posted: 1371
Votes received: 795

I'm a TEFL teacher working in Poland. I have a blog - Random Idea English - where I do some grammar stuff for advanced students and have the occasional rant against pedantry.

Questions Submitted

fewer / less

May 3, 2014

Natural as an adverb

April 13, 2014

tonne vs ton

January 25, 2014

Tell About

October 18, 2013

“reach out”

May 25, 2013

Recent Comments

You're quite right, of course, I'm quite good at reacting, but not so good at initiating. For that we need you and H.S., both of you sending me off to pastures new. To be honest I had only the vaguest idea of what fossilised expressions were.

Googling 'genitive s or of construction' brings up a couple of academic papers, and a discussion at Stack Exchange, where's a useful summary from Burchfield's entry in the third edition of Fowler's. One of the papers also suggests that 's use is increasing with inanimate objects.

In another academic paper (which I can't find now) there was a comment that the 'of' construction was almost endless in its possibilities.

Just looking back at the earlier discussion, I notice that much of it was about "a policeman's car" or "the car of a policeman", neither of which I can imagine myself saying. As you pointed out in your first comment, there is often a third alternative (and before anyone complains,
yes, you can have more than two alternatives): the compound noun, and unless talking about a particular policeman, as has already been pointed out, most of us would say, "a police car".

Which leads us into the territory of "a wine glass" vs "a glass of wine", and the less obvious "the car door" but the "car's engine / the engine of the car", etc.

I was thinking about personnel, for example when when talking about the directors of a particulat company, for example when they announce a decision:

"The company's directors / The directors of the company" - (but probably not "the company directors)" - the complete group

"A company director / A director of the company", (but not "a company's director") - 1 individual

I think the same would go for "employee(s) / the company""member(s) / the team / board" etc.

Scope for endless research here.

Warsaw Will March 2, 2015, 9:14am

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Damn, I was sure I had removed that 's'.

Warsaw Will February 28, 2015, 7:54am

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Thanks you, jayles. I think we can just say 'of' describes a relationship between two nouns. As well as partitives and the others you've mentioned, most of the following, I think, only or mainly take the 'of' construction:

Groups - a pack of hounds, a gang of thieves, a crowd of tourists
Origin - Robin of Loxley, the men of Harlech
Measures - a pint of beer, a kilo of potatoes (maybe these are included in partitives)
Time expressions - the time of the incident, the day of her wedding, the age of reason
Nouns describing others - that idiot of a boy, a genius of a man
Position - the top of the page, the back of the bus, the end of the book (but the book's ending is OK)
Descriptions - a film of rare charm, an idea of sheer brilliance

And no doubt lots of others. With a bit of help from Oxford Dictionaries Online and Swan's Practical English Usage.

And then there are some oddities, some work best one way, some another:

'He's a ship's captain', but 'He's but a plane's captain' ???
'Start the car's engine' , but 'Shut the car's door ' ???

Warsaw Will February 28, 2015, 7:54am

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As you correctly say, there is no 'was' in subjunctive past.

The real question though, is whether it is necessary to use a separate subjunctive form after 'if' for unreal conditionals for what amounts to two persons of one verb, when for all other persons of 'be' and for every other verb, no such separate form exists, and we use what the same form as the simple past.

And most modern (i.e. non-prescriptive) grammars would say no - it's a matter of style. You are quite entitled to think 'were' sounds more elegant, and perhaps more appropriate in more formal language, but that doesn't mean 'was' is incorrect.

In teaching English as a foreign language we refer to this use of past simple in present time hypothetical conditionals as the 'unreal past' rather than subjunctive, and see 'were' as an optional exception, but warn students that it is needed in more formal language. But most of the time we use informal language, and 'was' is just fine.

This is from the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, where they call Unreal past Irrealis:

'This use of were is highly exceptional: there is no other verb in the language where the modal remoteness meaning is expressed by a different inflectional form from the past meaning. The irrealis mood form is unique to be, and limited to the 1st and 3rd person singular. It is an untidy relic of an earlier system, and some speakers usually, if not always, use preterite was instead.'

Another example is the expression 'if it wasn't /weren't for', where the use of 'was' is probably even more common, and after 'I wish I was/were' (same 'rule'). At Ngram they're running neck-and-neck.

The subjunctive has slowly been disappearing from English over the centuries, and present subjunctive, for example, is hardly used nowadays in British English. Yet in the eighteenth century it was still deemed incorrect not to use subjunctive in present time real conditionals, something nobody would do today:

'If music be the food of love' - Shakespeare
'we found therein several massy pieces of yellow metal, which, if they be real gold, must be of immense value.' - Gulliver's Travels - Jonathan Swift
'If there be in this work, as some have been pleased to say, a stronger picture of ...', Tom Jones, Henry Fielding

By the nineteenth century it had more or less died out, but we can still find it occasionally in Jane Austen - 'and if her home be uncomfortable, or her fortune small'. Nowadays we'd think of that as rather archaic. Language changes. Use of subjunctive 'were' might show you're 'educated', but that's about all.

But perhaps the real answer to "there is no possibility of using 'was' in the past tense with an 'if' statement" is that of course there is, simply because there are enough competent speakers who do exactly tha to make it standard. But then that's a descriptivist talking.

Warsaw Will February 27, 2015, 5:18am

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@jayles - I don't really know why you consider "a sense of pride" and "a feeling of despair" hard to explain or fossilised expressions - to me 'of' is absolutely natural here, and I can't see any other way we might have said them . Apart from the genitive aspect, 'of ' is amost a dependent preposition for both nouns. At Netspeak, 44.8% of instances of 'sense' are followed by 'of', with 17.8 % for 'feeling', (this includes non-noun use). And it's the same story at Just The Word (from The British National Corpus).

Other European languages seem to deal with them in a similar way (or use a genitive inflection). French of course using 'de', where we got the 'of' construction from in the first place:

a sense of pride :
un sentiment de fierté - of
un sentido de orgullo- of
ein Gefühl von Stolz - of
poczucie dumy (Polish) - dumy is the genitive of duma
sensus superbiae (Latin) - genitive of superbia

a feeling of despair:
un sentiment de désespoir - of
un sentimiento de desesperación - of
ein Gefühl der Verzweiflung - genitive of die
uczucie rozpaczy (Polish) - genitive of rozpacz

We have lots of expressions like this with verbs of feeling and thinking: 'sense of' reminds me, of course, of sense nouns - 'a taste of', 'the smell of', 'the very sight of', etc

But then there are things like:

' an intimation of danger'
' the awareness of his presence'
' their perception of themselves'
' the consciousness of self and related issues'
' the sheer pleasure of learning'

and in books etc:

'The Joy of Sex'
'Fear of Flying'
'The Call of the Wild'

None of these would work with genitive 's' or a possessive pronoun, but work perfectly with 'of'. It looks as though, when we took 'de' from French, we took on a lot more than possession and partitives. I wouldn't be at all surprised if this genitive idea of using gentive for feelings and verbs of consciousness went back to the beginnings of language.

I'm (now, after a bit of googling) aware that the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language lists some expressions with 'of' as being fossilised or idiomatic - 'by dint of', 'in view of', 'in spite of', 'by way of' etc, but these seem to me to be one offs, whereas the rule for verbs of feeling and thinking is so general that I wouldn't consider them in the same vein.

Also, as I understand it, fossilised expressions are relatively fixed. But we can change these quite a lot:

a feeling of despair, hope, despondency etc (the following noun can be varied quite considerably)
feelings of ... (we can have a change in number)
a feeling of outright desparation (we can modify the noun with an adjective)
a feeling of despondency, not to mention of despair (coordination of nouns is possible)
this feeling of dispair (a change of determiner is possible)
I have a nasty feeling (the preposition can be ommited)

You can't do this with the expressions they list as fossilised at CaGEL (p616 - it's easy enough to find on the web). :)

Warsaw Will February 26, 2015, 9:28am

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It simply comes from the colour strips or kits (AmE - uniforms) they wear. Here in Poland the national team is known as the Biało-Czerwoni (the White-Reds), the colours of the national flag and of their strips.

It seems that British football team nicknames do sometimes take 'the'. Fulham are blessed with the name 'the cottagers', for example. Several teams, for example Newcastle United, are called the Magpies, from their black and white strips, others are called the Robins, from their red strips, and a couple are known as the Tigers, from their striped kits.

Norwich City, on the other hand, seems to have changed the colour of their strip, from blue and white to yellow, to match their nickname 'The Canaries'.

Warsaw Will February 26, 2015, 7:45am

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As I ended up by saying, I think it's probably more about culture and tradition than linguistics, and you'd probably need to go back to the early history of American football, basketball and baseball to find the answer. It might just have been one college team that started the trend.

There seem to have been quite a lot of teams with plural nouns used with 'the' in the early days of American football. In Wikipedia there is a reference to the Virginia Cavaliers from 1887, the Georgia Bulldogs 1892, the Oklahoma Sooners 1895. And perhaps the habit simply spread to teams in general. Personally, I'd to look to history for your answer rather than to grammar.

Incidentally, sox singular? - They were originally the Boston Red Stockings. :)

Warsaw Will February 24, 2015, 6:30am

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American team names often include plural nouns, which would seem to lend themselves to the use of the definite article - The Yankees, for example. Animal names seem to be particularly common, and no doubt fans leave out the city name and simply refer to - The Bears, The Lions, The Colts, The Panthers, etc.

When British football teams have a second name, they are often things like City, United, which don't seem to take 'the' so naturally, and even when there is a plural descriptive noun, we don't tend to use 'the' - Bolton Wanderers, Glasgow Rangers, Doncaster Rovers.

There are a a couple of 'the's in rugby, though - The British Lions, the All Blacks (NZ). But these tend not to include a place name. I thought of the Harlequins (London), but on their website they refere to a match - Harlequins vs Exeter Chiefs, both lacking 'the'. On an animal note, the Leicester rugby union team refer to themselves as 'Leicester Tigers', and don't appear to use 'the', even when the city name is dropped. This is from the local newspaper - "Yet Tigers continue to get the job done, albeit in a scrappy way of late."

So it looks as though it's probably more down to culture and tradition than any linguistic reason.

Warsaw Will February 23, 2015, 9:48am

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@jayles - Southerners could also get quite uppity - 1215, 1481, 1830.

OK, 1936 was pretty easy to get, but I had to look quite hard for the other two. And the common thread? Taxes (and especially war taxes), it would appear. Cheshire seems to have been particularly fractious - 1387, 1394, 1400, 1403, 1416.

Warsaw Will February 10, 2015, 7:18am

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@hank faenrich - 'worse', 'shameful'? What specifically is bad or shameful about it? That an idiom that was apparently fine in Northern dialect is now gaining ground in that other dialect known as Standard British English? Which is simply educated Southern English, the dialect that got lucky, no better or worse than any other, linguistically. And notice that this use is general in the North, among educated people as well as among those who use stronger urban dialects such as Scouse or Geordie.

Incidentally 'sat' was sometimes used like this in the past in Standard English, but usually with 'down', and to describe the act of sitting down, rather than the state of being sitting down, in other words 'we are sat down' = modern 'we have sat down', and 'they were sat down' = modern 'they had sat down', but as we discussed elsewhere on this forum: 'same difference'. And for the life of me I can't see any sense of someone sitting these people down:

"Now we are sat down and are at ease, I shall tell you a little more of Trout-fishing"
Izaak Walton, The Compleat Angler, 1653

"Timandra, and myself, as we were sat
In her apartment grieving for your fate"
Thomas Otway - Alcibiades 1675

"The company were the farmer and his wife, three children and an old grandmother : when they were sat down, the farmer placed me at some distance from him on the table"
Jonathan Swift - Gulliver’s Travels 1726

"then facing about, he marched up abreast with her to the sofa, and in three plain words, — though not before he was sat down, — nor after he was sat down, — but as he was sitting down — told her, 'he was in love;' "
Lawrence Sterne - The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman 1759

Note the 'as he was sitting down' - no trace of passive here.

(of Pontius Pilate) "When he was sat down on the judgment-seat, his wife sent unto him, saying, 'Have thou nothing to do with that just man' "
The Book of Common Prayer 1799

And I don't suppose anyone sat him, either.

Some thirty years ago or so, the BBC, in particular, opened up more to regional accents, and now I hope the same thing is happening with dialects, an important and defining feature of British English. It's not really surprising that as we hear more, for example, Northerners using elements of their dialect on TV and radio, that some expressions will take hold, just as exposure to American culture means that the same happens with some American expressions that I don't particularly care for, such as 'I'm good' or the complete absence of any awe in the modern use of 'awesome'. But is that 'shameful'? Of course not. It's just how language works.

Fortunately, English belongs to its speakers, and I for one, rather like this idiom and welcome its spread to areas outwith its original homeland (to use a word from another of the British family of Englishes whose spread I'd welcome).

Googling 'he was sat', I was surprised and flattered that my blog post on the subject comes in at Number Two, second only to PITE, of course.

Warsaw Will February 9, 2015, 12:39pm

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As this is mainly conversational, this will be a very difficult one to prove either way, but I would have though that both uses have been around for quite a long time.

At the British National Corpus (mainly from the 80s and 90s) there are about a dozen instances of 'thanks for that' - several of radio DJs thanking callers, and a couple from training sessions, thanking people for their input, where I presume no irony is intended (you can click on the numbers to see the source):

'Right, thanks for that, we'll, we'll come back to that. '
'Thanks for that group. '
'Oh that will be splendid er well thanks for that, that's er that's great obviously'

There are a couple with the meaning you suggest:

'Well, thanks for that,’ he murmured drily. '

But there are also occasions when it is followed by a noun with this meaning:

' ‘Well, thanks for that brilliant piece of help,’ he sneered. '

So at the BNC, at least, the majority seem to be in the non-ironical sense. And I would go along with that - when thanking someone for contributing to a discussion, or for giving a piece of information, in a meeting for example, 'thanks for that' without any loaded extra meaning is quite normal, as is using it to thank someone who has just done something for you when it is obvious what 'that' is referring to. It all depends on context and intonation - in your meaning it would probably go down at the end; in the straight meaning, it's more likely to go up.

Early examples at Google Books not prefaced by 'We give thee' are rare, but those that do exist don't seem to have the ironic sense:

'Thanks — thanks for that !" exclaimed the Aztec, drawing the priest more closely to him ; and, with a confidence worthy a truer heart than that which received it, laying his head on his bosom ; " Thanks for that ! It tells me, my gods have still a ...' - Montezuma, a Romance, Edward Maturin , 1845

'Thanks for that, my pet ; so must a reasonable maiden think. Fill your glasses. Long life to the bride, and the bridegroom too !' - (a father talking to his daughter) - The Gift: a Christmas and New Year's Present ', edited by Eliza Leslie, 1845.

' “Thanks for that,” said Lord de Yonge, with something of ecstasy. “Thanks for that. Now let that villain do his worst; the Lord Chancellor of England is now the exclusive guardian.', The Two Cosmos: A Tale of Fifty Years Ago, 1861.

And then there's Shakespeare -'Thanks for that', Macbeth to the First Murderer after he has killed Banquo on Macbeth's orders, presumably sincerely.

So yes, it often was intended as put down, but my impression is that it has always been used in its straight sense as well. And the put down could just as easily include a noun phrase:

"Thanks for that piece of scintillating information!"
"Well, thanks for that remark, it was really helpful. Not!"

Warsaw Will January 8, 2015, 9:26am

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Here's an example of a peculiarly British use of 'gift' as a verb, escaping from the sports pages to politics - 'She' is Teresa May, the British Home Secretary, Nigel Farage is the leader of the anti-immigration UKIP:

"With all the weight of her office the home secretary has turned non-EU students into another migration bogey, akin to Ukip’s Rumanians and Bulgarians. She has gifted Nigel Farage with an issue he can run whenever he wants, either before the election or under a Tory-Ukip coalition government. " The Guardian, 7 Jan, 2015

The meaning here is:

"informal - Inadvertently allow (an opponent) to have something:
[with two objects]: the goalkeeper gifted Liverpool their last-minute winner"
Oxford Dictionaries Online

Warsaw Will January 8, 2015, 2:33am

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@HS - Americans seem to go for 'Wrack and ruin', British online dictionaries for 'rack and ruin', with 'wrack' as a variant. This is the case at Oxford, Cambridge, Macmillan, Longman and Chambers. Only Collins lists it under 'wrack'.

Oxford give the origins as 'rack from Old English 'wræc' - 'vengeance'; related to wreak'. Etymology Online goes along with the idea that 'wrack' here in 'wrack and ruin' comes from Middle Dutch 'wrak' - 'wreck', perhaps influenced by OE 'wræc'.

If you use 'rack' for the verb, and 'wrack' for the noun, I don't think anyone can naysay that. But I think that there are arguments for the variants as well.

The Online Etymology Dictionary considers 'wrack your brains' 'erroneous', but
both Burchfield and Quinion were / have been contributors to the OED, and Quinion has made himself a bit of a reputation as an etymologist. If they say it's somewhat more complicated than that, I'm inclined to believe them. (see usage note)

Warsaw Will January 4, 2015, 5:25am

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According to Oxford Online, both are acceptable, wrack being a less frequent variation of the verb rack, in the meaning of 'cause extreme pain, anguish, or distress', and in a usage note they say:

'The relationship between the forms rack and wrack is complicated. ... Figurative senses of the verb ... can, however, be spelled either rack or wrack: thus racked with guilt or wracked with guilt; rack your brains or wrack your brains. In addition, the phrase rack and ruin can also be spelled wrack and ruin.'

Macmillan, Longman and Collins all accept wrack as an alternative spelling, although Chambers say it is usually regarded as an error.

Back in 1755, Samuel Johnson also listed 'wrack' with the meaning of to torture or torment, but says that it 'is commonly written rack'. -

Michael Quinion at World Wide Words, also tends ton go along with this tolerant approach, suggesting that there seem to be good arguments on either side. -

and he quotes Burchfield,from the 3rd ed of Fowler's:

'All the complexities of this exceedingly complicated word cannot be set down here: spare an hour (at least) to consult a large dictionary, esp the OED'

Daily Writing Tips has no such doubts, though -

Various tries at Ngram suggest that the wrack versions started around the beginning of the 20th century, and are far less common,with the 'wracked with' versions being a bit more relatively common than 'wrack your brains'.

The earliest 'wrack' version I can find at Google Books is from 1867, from the Dartmouth Magazine (US), although there's one with 'wreck' from the London Chronicle of 1759 - 'but whilst you wreck your brains, to construct machines to gain power ...'. But 'rack ' beats that by ten years, with this in The Monthly Review of 1749 - 'Now which of these was Celia's case, (Tho' all are common to her race) I shall not rack my brains about'. Most 19th century variations on (w)rack(ed) my/your/his brains at Google Books have the 'rack' spelling.

Warsaw Will January 2, 2015, 7:40pm

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I'd certainly never heard this before. Oxford Concise has nothing in the sense of reply, but funnily enough Oxford Advanced Learner's does - calling it Indian English and rather formal, giving the examples:

"Exellent openings—kindly revert with your updated CV."
"We request you to kindly revert back if you have any further requirements."

There's a bit about in this book, published in Singapore - "English as it is Broken 2' , where it calls it 'local usage'-

Not everyone in India likes this use, though -

Warsaw Will January 2, 2015, 3:26pm

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Thanks, HS

Warsaw Will December 30, 2014, 10:50am

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Warsaw Will December 26, 2014, 6:32pm

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I've noticed that one Kernel Sanders thinks I'm 'too obsessed with specialist book definitions and don't pay enough attention to actual use', and that I should trust what occurs in specific instances. Oh, but I do. When I say that I've got three sisters and that one of them's got blue eyes, another's got a vicious temper, and the third's got naturally wavy hair, I know perfectly well that the only difference with 'have' here is one of register (formality).

But as someone who teaches foreigners English and writes a grammar blog, I have to base my arguments on something rather more solid than a hunch. And in any case the 'specialist books' I referred to are based on corpus linguistics - in other words how people actually use the language.

One problem is that every attempt here to explain some 'subtle difference' between 'have' and 'have got' involves some interpretation based on obtaining something, and as my examples above show, grammatical possession is about much more than owning or obtaining something. And what about 'have got to' and 'have to' - where's the subtle difference there, I wonder?

And do I trust books written by people who have made a long study of language more than a few theories made up on the hoof on this forum to explain an idiomatic use that doesn't need any explaining? You bet I do.

But what really puzzled me was this somewhat ad hominem statement - 'It's people like you that would tell TS Eliot to change "Let us go then, you and I" to "Let us go then, you and me" which would positively screw up one of the best loved lines in English literature, just because of your preposterous need to cling to the rules in all instances rather than using your ears and your mind and treating rules as the rough guidelines they are.'

What's this got to do with anything? Firstly, this is a complete non-sequitur. Trying to understand what a phrase means has nothing to do with a 'preposterous need to cling to the rules in all instances rather than using your ears and your mind and treating rules as the rough guidelines they are.'

And secondly, as most of my comments on this forum show, I am forever defending actual usage as being more important than formal rules, and I never tell others what to say, and certainly not a poet. And nor would I ever use an argument such as 'it's people like you who ...'. Apart from the fact that it's not very polite, how could I possibly know?

Warsaw Will December 26, 2014, 7:22am

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According to David Crystal, in 'The Stories of English', present continuous (with present reference) started being used in the Middle English period, at much the same time as the auxiliaries started to be used in much the way we use them today.

On the other hand, passive continuous didn't start getting used till the nineteenth century. It doesn't appear in Jane Austen apparently, and its use was controversial.

I checked the KJV (at Project Gutenberg) for 'coming'. Most instances are of participle use, or after see, as here:

'I saw the son of Jesse coming to Nob, to Ahimelech the son of Ahitub'

but there are a few past continuous and a couple in present continuous:

5:6 When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole? 5:7 The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me.

13:1 This is the third time I am coming to you. In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.

And a few with future reference:

44:7 And who, as I, shall call, and shall declare it, and set it in order for me, since I appointed the ancient people? and the things that are coming, and shall come, let them shew unto them.

6:31 And he said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat.

23:29 For, behold, the days are coming, in the which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck.

5:25 Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.

5:28 Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, 5:29 And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.

At Google Books I found an instance of 'future in the past' from 1688:

'And Mr. Green said, He knew of Twelve that were coming next Morning to vote for Sir Eliab Harvey.' - Journals of the House of Commons 1688

And these, with future reference, from 1800-1849:

'We'll agree that way,then,” he says. “Kit's coming tomorrow morning, I know.' - Dickens, The Old Curiosity Shop, 1841

'Sound the gay rebeck, and banish all sorrow,
For Christinas, King Christmas, is coming tomorrow ! '- The Living Age, 1845

'... you must not go tomorrow, for William is coming tomorrow evening' - The American Review, 1846

'Miss Kirkpatrick is coming tomorrow.' - Cornhill Magazine, 1854

' "Oh, yes," he said, " they are coming tomorrow." ' Dickens, 1870

But there also quite a few with 'comes tomorrow':

'O! my dear master, wait but this day — the Marquis of A—— comes tomorrow, and a' will be remedied.' - Sir Walter Scott, Tales of my landlord, 1823

'Her name is Miss Hilton, and she comes tomorrow.' - The Living Age 1850

and only one for 'will come tomorrow' where we might use continuous today:

'Upon the morrow he was there again from sunrise until night ; and still at night he laid him down to rest, and muttered, " She will come tomorrow !" ' - Dickens, Master Humphrey's Clock, 1847

It looks to me rather as though present simple was earlier used with this meaning rather than 'will'; most of the examples of 'will come' I can find do not have this idea of a future arrangement.

Warsaw Will December 21, 2014, 10:31am

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