take aback

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From take + aback, see the two entries for their respective etymology.


take aback (third-person singular simple present takes aback, present participle taking aback, simple past took aback, past participle taken aback)

  1. (idiomatic, transitive) To surprise or shock; to discomfit.
    I was rather taken aback by his angry reply.
    The bad news took us aback.
  2. (nautical, usually passive) Of a ship: to catch it with the sails aback suddenly.

Usage notes[edit]

  • Most commonly found in the passive voice.
  • Unlike most phrasal verbs, take aback in the active voice requires its object to immediately follow the verb. *The bad news took aback us is ungrammatical in contemporary English.