go brown or turn brown

Do autumn leaves ‘go brown’ or ‘turn brown’?

As it happens, they do both! It’s perfectly correct to say either that leaves go brown or that they turn brown.

Looking at the lovely autumn colours got me thinking about how we describe physical change, so to start with, let’s stay with the topic of colours.

turn brown go brown

If you can’t decide which colour to go, go multicoloured!

When we’re talking about colours changing naturally, we can use either go or turn. So we talk about hair going grey or turning grey, because it’s a natural process. But should you be convinced by Anita Loos’ claim that ‘gentlemen prefer blondes’ and decide to dye your hair accordingly, then you’d talk about going blonde.

    I think I might go auburn for a change. What do you think? My sister went jet-black and she looks fantastic!

We can also talk about growing grey, since grow is normally used to refer to gradual change, which is often the case with the appearance of grey hairs. That’s why we also talk about growing older, or when we notice the season is beginning to change, we say, for example, that the days are growing shorter.

turn brown go brown

going red

Turn, as well as being more formal than go, is often used in situations where the change of colour is quite sudden or striking. Oscar Wilde, referring satirically to a merry widow in his play Lady Windermere’s Fan, came up with the amusing line: When her third husband died, her hair turned quite gold from grief.’ Other more common examples include:

    The poor girl turned bright red with embarrassment when she realized her mistake.
    The bank manager turned white with fear when the robber pulled out a gun and pointed it at him.
    His face turned purple with rage.
    Her face turned quite pink with pleasure when she saw the beautiful birthday presents.
go brown turn brown

Are you going bald?

Although we could use go for all of these situations with no change in the basic meaning of the sentences, there are some other situations involving change where only go can be used. This is when we are talking about changes for the worse.
He/she went blind, deaf, mad, crazy, insane, bald… I think that nowadays we might argue about whether baldness is actually intrinsically negative, given that it can be a fashion choice for those who choose to shave their heads, but traditionally it was seen as a sign of ageing and therefore as a change for the worse.

If things don’t work out or someone makes a mistake, we use go wrong.

    Things started to go wrong at work when they appointed a new general manager.
go brown turn brown

Smell to see if the milk’s gone off

If bread or cheese have lost their freshness we use go stale.

    This loaf has gone stale surprisingly quickly – I’m not buying anything from that baker’s again.

We also use go sour for milk or cream and go bad for foodstuffs in general.

    It was a nightmare when the fridge broke down – all the milk went sour and the fish went bad.
go brown or turn brown

A flat tyre

In situations where something has lost the air content that it needs to function properly, we use go flat.

    This beer is ghastly – it’s gone completely flat.
    I had to walk home because the front tyre on my bike went flat and I couldn’t repair it.

However, it’s not all bad news! We also use go with well, so I hope everything goes well for you this week as the leaves turn golden and the nights grow longer!

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