come across: meaning and explanation

1: to come across something

to come across something = to find or discover something which you hadn’t been looking for; to find something by accident.

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This phrasal verb is a nice alternative for discover or encounter, especially when you find something that you had not been expecting to find, or which you were not looking for.

It could be something physical (e.g. I came across a really interesting old shop the other day.) or not physical (e.g. I came across a really fascinating article in the paper this morning – would you like to take a look?).

2: to come across well/badly

The phrasal verb to come across is also used to describe the impression a person gets of someone’s personality, based on how they behave.

Imagine you have a job interview. If you arrive on time, are dressed appropriately and act in a polite way, then you would probably come across well. The interviewer would get a positive impression of you.

If you arrive late, are wearing an old t-shirt, and forget the interviewer’s name, then you would almost certainly come across badly. The interviewer would get a negative impression of you.

Although it is common (and easy) to use this phrasal verb with well/badly, we can also be more specific by using to come across as sth. e.g. Your mother and I enjoyed meeting your girlfriend. She came across as a very interesting and friendly person.

Have a go at these micro-dictation exercises to hear this expression being used in context – how much can you understand?

Listening exercises

Micro-listening #1

Accent: Scotland

I've never terrible acting .
I've never across terrible acting my whole .

About the sentence

…I’ve never come across

The speaker used the present perfect here (I’ve never come across) because he is talking about his whole life.

The time period of the sentence is unfinished, and this is an important reason for using the present perfect instead of the past simple.

Micro-listening #2

Accent: England (RP)

I’m I badly in – I went .
I’m I came quite badly in the – I went blank.

About the sentence

…I went completely blank

To go blank = to forget what you were going to say next, or to have no idea how to answer a question. e.g. It was so embarrassing – I went completely blank when I was introducing him to a friend, and couldn’t remember his name.

Micro-listening #3

Accent: England (RP)


I an statistic article earlier .

I across an statistic in article I was earlier .

About the sentence

…earlier on…

Earlier on is a nice way to introduce an action that happened previously in the same day. e.g. I left him an answerphone message earlier on but he hasn’t got back to me yet.

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