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What is the difference between them when we use them in the following form:

  • This, my picture, is back to 1990.
  • This, my picture, is back in 1990.

back in; back to

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    More context please. It's not clear what the picture actually represents. If it's a picture of you in 1990 then that's the only preposition that works. "Back to 1990" implies movement back in time, "This story takes us back to 1990, when I was still a young man" – Andrew Feb 11 '18 at 22:59
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    Neither of your examples sounds quite right. You might be trying to say "This is a picture of me back in 1990." – The Photon Feb 11 '18 at 23:00
  • A personal picture, I pointed to it. Then, I would say, “this is back to/in 1990.” @Andrew – Bavyan Yaldo Feb 11 '18 at 23:03
  • Is it due to “back” being an adverb so it’s impossible to fit into an adjective place? @ThePhoton – Bavyan Yaldo Feb 11 '18 at 23:06
  • Could we, simultaneously, use “back to” as an alternative to “back in”? @ThePhoton – Bavyan Yaldo Feb 11 '18 at 23:09
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Your ngram is irrelevant, because it ignores context. As Andrew says in a comment, we use back to 1990 only when there is a (metaphorical) notion of moving back in time.

So we can say this picture goes back to 1990, but if we are not using that metaphor, we have to say in: this picture was in 1990 or this picture was taken in 1990, or this picture is of me in 1990, or this is back in 1990.

  • Or even nostalgia: "Wow, this picture takes me back to 1990. I still had hair!" – Andrew Feb 11 '18 at 23:16
  • So If I am not certain when a picture was taken, do I have to use a metaphor usage “back to”? – Bavyan Yaldo Feb 11 '18 at 23:16
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    @BavyanYaldo "I don't know in what year this picture was taken" – Andrew Feb 11 '18 at 23:18
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    Or in ordinary English I don't know what year this picture was taken in. Or I don't know what year this picture is from. – Colin Fine Feb 11 '18 at 23:19
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    @BavyanYaldo as in "Her clothes are a throwback to the 80s", yes – Andrew Feb 11 '18 at 23:51

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