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I’m revisiting and adding to a post I wrote last year about the phrase “we’ll go ahead.”

One of my workshop participants emailed me the following question:

We Filipinos usually use the phrase “we’ll go ahead” when saying goodbye or we say mauna na kami or alis na kami. I overheard an American respond to the phrase and commented that this phrase was incomplete. He replied, “Go ahead where?” Is the phrase really grammatically wrong?

Great question, right?

I learned that first speakers of English use the phrase “go ahead” when:

  1. Both the speaker and the listener are headed towards the same destination. They, however, will not go there together. One of them—the speaker—will go ahead of the other. This is why Jesus in Matthew 26:32 told his disciples, “I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” Learner’s Dictionary defines the phrase “go ahead” as “to go or travel to a place before the other person or group that is with you.” Example: I’ll go (on) ahead and make sure that everything’s ready when you arrive. Oxford American Advanced Dictionary defines “go ahead” as “to travel in front of other people in your group and arrive before them.” Example: I’ll go ahead and tell them you’re on the way. 
  2. People are waiting in line or cars are lining up at an intersection, and one of them cuts in on the others, with or without permission. This person or car is going ahead of the others.

We Filipinos use the phrase for leave-taking, an act of saying goodbye. The phrase “we’ll go ahead” is elliptical, i.e., something is omitted “from the speech or writing of a word or words that are superfluous or able to be understood from contextual clues.” When we use the phrase when bidding goodbye, we do not mean we are going ahead to a designated place. We mean, “We will go ahead of you.”

Our use is very cultural. Filipino forms of courtesy prompt us to allow another person to go first. So when we say Mauna na kami (translated rather loosely as the metaphrase We’ll go ahead), we are actually asking permission.

Perhaps we take our cue from how the New Oxford American Dictionary defines the noun go-ahead as “permission to proceed.” Example: “The government had given the go-ahead for the power station.”

Which probably means we are not so far off the mark. :)

Photo credit: Tourdaexperiencia

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3 thoughts on “Revisiting “We’ll go ahead”

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