Both of them backed off their verbals, and eventual Indiana pledge Romeo Langford cut Louisville from his list of schools. (source)

The meaning is clear, but I find the usage of "back off" as a transitive phrasal verb strange. I am more familiar with "back off on" and "back off from". For example, Merriam Webster has a sentence that employs the same meaning of "back off":

you'd better not back off on your promise to do all the planning for the big dance

Is this omission of preposition in the quoted sentence idiomatic? Also, do "back off on" and "back off from" have the same meaning?

  • 1
    Sports journalism has its own dialect, or it often seems that way. back off does not mean "renege on" in other contexts.
    – TimR
    Sep 21, 2018 at 11:28
  • We can say "back off on" or "back away from" to mean "begin to renege on". The new mayor is backing away from his promise to build a rec center in the neighborhood.
    – TimR
    Sep 21, 2018 at 12:57
  • The company has backed off from investing new money.
    – user3395
    Sep 21, 2018 at 14:10
  • Right, but that example uses a prepositional phrase complement, where the OP is asking about back off + direct object.
    – TimR
    Sep 21, 2018 at 17:53
  • Yes, I believe the omission of a preposition is idiomatic. In this case, the omission conveys a more curt or forceful response. Do "back off on" and "back off from" have the same meaning? Yes.
    – Tedinoz
    Sep 22, 2018 at 15:35

2 Answers 2


In the UK, back off is generally used to mean stay out of this and is generally seen as aggressive:

"You better back off or else."

If we're talking politics or in polite conversation we'd use step down or back out instead:

The PM has said she will step down after the next election.

You'd better not back out of your promise to do all the planning for the big dance.

Hope that helps!


"Back off" is an intransitive phrasal verb. Any noun phrase after the 'off' is an object of that preposition -- not a direct object of the verb.

Any preposition following 'off' is usually redundant, which is why it can be 'from', 'of', 'on', etc. It does help clarify that 'back off' is phrasal, and it may feel needed because 'off' is often used without any object.

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