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Request for clean-up: - add translation tables - many of the adjective and adverb senses occur only in set phrases, such as "back road" and "give back". — Paul G 09:40, 26 Jun 2005 (UTC)

To retract[edit]

Is it correct sentence? If not, which word should I use instead?

I backed my hand, because the pot was hot.

Paweł ze Szczecina 14:23, 9 August 2006 (UTC)

The verb "retract" expresses the meaning you intend above, so you could say the following:
I retracted my hand because the pot was hot.
However, most native speakers would instead probably use the word "back" as an adverb with the verb "pull":
I pulled my hand back because the pot was hot.
Rod (A. Smith) 08:43, 13 August 2006 (UTC)


Surely in sense 2 (as of 25/9/08) back isn't an adjective but an adverb?! Duncan MacCall 09:53, 25 September 2008 (UTC)

Thanks for asking. I think that it can be analyzed as an adjective that can only be used as a predicate after a copula, such as a form of be (or "seem", "appear", etc). At least I can't produce an example of attributive use in this sense. Copulas are treated grammatically as different from other verbs. The sense is about the same as the adverbial use in "He went back", which is adverbial, I think, because "went" is not copulative. Some dictionaries seem to agree. OTOH, some dictionaries show it as only an adverb in this sense and give a usage example with a form of "be". As with many classification issues, relatively few consequences follow from a mere change in classification. If this does not satisfy you, we can continue the discussion here or broaden it by taking it to the Tea Room. DCDuring TALK 10:57, 25 September 2008 (UTC)
Well, I'm not certain. I've been thinking it over and I guess I can see your point as far as syntax is concerned, but there are two other points: first, I think it would be more appropriate (and btw user-friendly) to change the definition at Adverb 1 to To or in a previous condition or state, because, and that's the second point, when we regard semantics, even in the examples given now at Adjective 2 the word seems to me to refer more to the situation, state or condition the subject is in than to its features or characteristics. (Re-reading this after myself I realize it's disputable, so perhaps it might be interesting to bring the subject to the Tea Room and get other opinions too, but I'm afraid I'm too new to WT to be certain how - does one just click on Start a new discussion there and drag there this conversation via clipboard?) Duncan MacCall 10:37, 26 September 2008 (UTC)

The subject would be [[back]]. Then either copy the text or insert your current question with a link to this discussion page section: [[:Talk:back#Adjective]]. BTW, you might find it useful to see how other dictionaries handle this. makes it easy (except for getting to, but MWOnline is probably the best online dictionary, present site excluded, of course. Armed with knowledge of what they have done you can try your hand at whatever change you think appropriate. I'll be watching in case something goes off the rails. Feel free to contact me on my talk page. DCDuring TALK 01:02, 27 September 2008 (UTC)

In sense 2 (01/03/12), the example sentence might cause some confusion. To a non-native speaker (me), the sentence looks more like referring to the back of the issue, rather than the previous issue. I'm suggesting a different example, though I myself haven't been able to put my finger on one. The current sentence is: I’d like to find a back issue of that magazine. Rubykuby (talk) 14:43, 1 March 2012 (UTC)

Tea room discussion[edit]

Note: the below discussion was moved from the Wiktionary:Tea room.

There is currently a dispute concerning one particular sense of this word at Talk:back#Adjective, the question being whether to classify it as an adjective or an adverb. Anyone ready to give an opinion is welcome to do so. Duncan MacCall 04:48, 27 September 2008 (UTC)

I would appreciate clarification on this point because it has general applicability. "Back" in "He went back." is not disputed as an adverb. "Back" in "He is back" is in discussion. As a predicate is seems like an adjective to me. DCDuring TALK 11:23, 27 September 2008 (UTC)

I consulted my printed dictionaries: (1) Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary (2000) says: " adj [only before noun] 1situated behind or at the back of something 2 of or from a past time 3 owed for a time in the past" for the adjective, and within its seven senses for the adverb includes " 4 to or into the place, condition, situation or activity where sb/sth was before", giving among other examples also "He'll be back (=will return) on Monday" and "We were right back where we started, only this time without any money. (2) Webster's Universal Dictionary and Thesaurus (1993) says "adj at the rear; (streets, etc) remote or inferior; (pay, etc) of or for the past; backward. * adv at or toward the rear; to or toward a former condition, time, etc; in return or requital; in reverse or concealment." (Italics and bold type given as they appear in the dictionaries.) In my opinion these corroborate the view that back in He is back is and adverb rather than an adjective. Duncan MacCall 15:05, 5 October 2008 (UTC)

We are only talking about the sense back as "returned". I'm wondering whether this is a UK/US difference. Merriam Webster shows that sense as an adjective, as does cambridge Dictionary of American English. It seems wrong to exclude either the analysis as an adjective or as an adverb, both being used by reasonable authorities. OTOH, Wiktionary usually gives the back of its hand to US users (as reflected in its relative share of users by country), so have at it. DCDuring TALK 19:19, 26 October 2008 (UTC)
What about changing the adjective definition 2 to "{{context|US|after a change}} In the previous state or position." and the adverb definition 1 to "(Not comparable) To or in a [[previous]] condition or place." then? Would that be a satisfactory compromise? As a non-native speaker I certainly don't want to pretend I know English better than Webster or Cambridge... frankly, I don't even know what have at it means - have it your way? go ahead? I'm still unconvinced? --Duncan MacCall 19:58, 26 October 2008 (UTC)
Never compromise. Find the creative, unifying solution. We all want Wiktionary to be a comprehensive, useful description of languages. I am dismayed that what thought I knew may not be universally accepted. I cannot see an obvious solution, because I am unaware of how we have resolved such matters in the past. Regional preferences for one PoS over another? Do users care? As to [[have at it]] or [[have]] [[at it]], you correctly identified the senses included. DCDuring TALK 20:40, 26 October 2008 (UTC)

I think life is all about when to compromise and when not to, but never mind... I've been mulling it over and in the end resolved to edit the page the way I consider the best, namely removing sense 2 of adjective and moving the examples to sense 1 at adverb. If anyone reverts me, so be it. Nevertheless I left there the Tea room box as it would be arrogant of me to remove it, consensus having been by no means achieved. --Duncan MacCall 14:34, 27 October 2008 (UTC)

I think this is reasonable. Of the nine dictionaries I surveyed when starting Appendix:Dictionary notes/back, only the OED and MW3 had this adjective sense, and both give examples that seem very distant from "I'm back" ("back action," "back shad"). On the other hand, all seven dictionaries that acknowledged the existence of adverbial senses included this as an adverb. Be back probably requires its own entry. -- Visviva 17:16, 31 October 2008 (UTC)
  • While we're having our tea here, I'd like to raise another issue for back#Adjective: comparability. The section is currently labeled "not comparable," but most spatiotemporal senses seem to be comparable using further/furthest:
    His house is further back than mine.
    I look back on my youth, and further back to my childhood.
On the other hand, the more abstract senses -- e.g. in arrears, as "back rent" -- are not comparable. And just to uglify the situation a bit, the phonetic sense ("back vowel") can be compared using "more back" or "backer," but only very rarely "further back" AFAICT. Guess we need to give this info for each sense individually... Is there any elegant solution here? -- Visviva 17:16, 31 October 2008 (UTC)
As regards the phonetic sense, could it have a definition of its own with the comparative and superlative mentioned? After all, the definitions as they are at the moment hardly match this meaning so as to enlighten anybody who doesn't already know what a "back vowel" is. But as for the other two examples you're giving, I can't help it but I see there "back" as an adverb again (and the comparative & superlative with further & furthest resp. are there all right). --Duncan MacCall 14:52, 4 November 2008 (UTC)
The way to handle a mixture of comparable and noncomparable senses is with {{not comparable}} or {{comparable}} on the appropriate sense lines. There is no policy as whether each sense line needs the appropriate tag (too cluttered, IMO), just the noncomparable senses (my choice, because of the common "prejudice" against comparablility among some contributors), or just the less common among the senses (bad for editor learning-by-example). DCDuring TALK 16:16, 4 November 2008 (UTC)
The problem here, though, is in addition to some senses being non-comparable, different senses are comparable in different ways: "further back" vs. "backer." -- Visviva 16:28, 4 November 2008 (UTC)
I'm sure I've said this before, but I think it's misleading to describe “further ~” as a comparative of “~”, even if semantically it's similar to one. “Further ~” is a comparative of “far ~”; it's not *“how back in history are the days of Sumer?”, but rather “how far back [] ?”, and not *“Ancient Rome is less back in history than the days of Sumer”, but rather “ [] less far back [] ”. You seem to be acknowledging this by using “far back” in your first clause. Also, this is a secondary concern, but it seems arbitrary to choose “further back” over “farther back”; the former is slightly more common on Google Books (6480 vs. 5410), but way less common on Google Web (1.7m vs. 11.6m). —RuakhTALK 18:18, 4 November 2008 (UTC)
It probably isn't such a good idea for inflection-line purposes because of the unfamiliarity of the terminology, but the notion of "gradability" is a useful generalisation of comparability, for example to test for whether something is an adjective (vs. attributive use of noun}. From an ordinary-user perspective semantic comparability is probably more meaningful than a stricter sense. DCDuring TALK 19:57, 4 November 2008 (UTC)
“Meaningful” can be a bad thing; I'd rather say something meaningless but true than something meaningful but false, because the former is useless while the latter is actively harmful. (Of course, my top choice would be to say something meaningful and true, and my #2 would be to say nothing at all.) These “further ~” constructions don't behave like comparatives of “~”; for example, you can say “back room” and “back door”, but not *“further back room” and *“further back door”, which makes sense, because they're really comparatives of “far ~” (*“far back room”, *“far back door”). As for “test[ing] for whether something is an adjective (vs. attributive use of noun}”: well, there are other possibilities. In this case, I think modern linguists would consider back a preposition. For a similar example, would you consider “higher up” to be the comparative of “up”? We follow the traditional dictionary practice of listing objectless prepositions as adjectives and/or adverbs, and I think that's fine, but we shouldn't let ourselves be deceived about what we're really dealing with. —RuakhTALK 21:00, 4 November 2008 (UTC)
I was thinking more of gradable as a substitute for or addition to comparable or of something in usage notes or a usage appendix. I remembered your prior mention of similar points. DCDuring TALK 21:21, 4 November 2008 (UTC)
I'm sorry, I misunderstood. Yes, I think usage notes would be good. —RuakhTALK 22:05, 4 November 2008 (UTC)
Oops, you're right, the second example is adverbial (I sure think the first one is an adjective, though). How about this: The days of Sumer are far back in history, even further back than ancient Rome. -- Visviva 16:28, 4 November 2008 (UTC)

I'll be back?[edit]

Where's the definition for back as in I'll be back soon. --Rising Sun talk? contributions 19:38, 19 May 2010 (UTC)

It's adverb sense 1. Thryduulf (talk) 21:06, 19 May 2010 (UTC)

Comparation forms[edit]

The adjective is labelled "not comparable", while sense 4 is labelled "comparable". First of all, I don't think this is according to the layout rules. But more importantly, the comparation forms for sense 4 must be given. Not being a native speaker, I couldn't tell what they are (backer, more back, further back, ???).