Why does one say “went missing” instead of “is missing”?
I’d never given the expression “to go missing” any thought. It sounds fine to me, perhaps because I lived in England for seven years.
Judging by the comments on some language sites, it drives some Americans crazy.
I . . . have been puzzled (and annoyed) by the term “went missing.” I teach English (vocabulary, grammar and literature) to sixth and eighth grade students, and would mark this “incorrect usage” if I saw it in their writing. It seems to have become totally acceptable in newspapers and on television. I know we are a nation of “borrowed” words, but this one offends the ears.
Went missing has been bothering me ever since I first heard it on TV. UK or Canadians can have it. In our country it’s incorrect and it will never sound proper.
The OED includes the expression under the entry for the verb go, along with the expression to go native. The sense of go here is “to pass into a certain condition.”
The American dictionary Merriam-Webster also includes the expression in the go entry:
go missing: to become lost
To say that someone “has gone missing” is not the same as saying someone “is missing.” “To go missing” means “to disappear.” “To be missing” is to be gone or absent.
I’ve heard American speakers say that someone “has gone AWOL.” I don’t see much difference between that and saying someone “has gone missing.”
The expression “went missing” for “disappeared” may be informal rather than formal, but it is neither ungrammatical nor unidiomatic.
Nevertheless, since many Americans object so strongly to the expression. writers and newscasters may want to think twice about using it.