A light bulb (went, came) on over my head

wanabee

Senior Member
Japanese
Dear all,

When a bright idea hit you, you might describe it as "A light bulb went on over my head" (like in a cartoon).
In that expression, can you say "came on" in place of "went on"?
 
  • Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    Yes. Indeed, I'd prefer "come" in any case, for two reasons:

    1. It emphasises my viewpoint - I was the same person then as I am here and now talking about myself.
    2. It emphasises the direction of movement - the light (i.e. the idea) was somewhere else (limbo?), and it came from that place nearer to me (over my head).
     

    Franco-filly

    Senior Member
    English - Southern England
    I agree with Keith re: went versus came. Although cartoons show a light bulb over someone's head when they've had an idea, you can also say "a light bulb came on in my head" as that's where the idea takes/took form.
     

    Franco-filly

    Senior Member
    English - Southern England
    Yes "over" and "above" and synonymous here. "On" is a preposition attached to "turn", we turn/switch televisions, lightbulbs, motors, "on" to get them working/started and turn/switch them "off" to stop them. So "a light bulb turned on" means "a light bulb was illuminated / lit itself up"
     

    VicNicSor

    Banned
    Russian
    Yes "over" and "above" and synonymous here. "On" is a preposition attached to "turn", we turn/switch televisions, lightbulbs, motors, "on" to get them working/started and turn/switch them "off" to stop them. So "a light bulb turned on" means "a light bulb was illuminated / lit itself up"
    Yes, that's why I was confused. Do you mean "go" and "come" in the phrase in question stand for "turn"?
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    Turning a light on or off implies human agency. The lights can go off in a storm, and an hour later come on again when someone somewhere has repaired something. 'Come' and 'go' are used when they seem to be acting on their own. A light on a machine might come on to signal something - we'd be unlikely to say anything turned it on (not the error condition it's signalling, not the machine itself).
     

    Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    Yes, that's why I was confused. Do you mean "go" and "come" in the phrase in question stand for "turn"?
    There are four expressions that are near-synonyms: come on, go on, switch on, turn on, all meaning "become energised". Their opposites are even more numerous: go off, switch off, turn off, go out, switch out, turn out, meaning "be extinguished". The choice between them often depends on the speaker's viewpoint and, as Entangledbank says, the human agency.
     
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