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What's the difference between the two?

Example sentence:

It wasn't until she bumped into a man that her head came back (up).

When I searched for "her head came back" on Google Books, I got both usages.

Note: I searched for "come back up" on Google, but I couldn't find any definition.

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The difference between the two is that one includes a direction of up.

Example:

Let's say you had an aunt that lived in the north of your country, and you lived in the south. You could say:

My aunt from the north of the country came to visit me.

Or you could include the detail that she lives in the north simply by adding the direction:

My aunt came down to visit me.

In case this is not familiar to you, it is common in English to speak of travelling up from the South, or down from the North. By adding in the direction she travelled you are also indicating, albeit vaguely, where she came from.

Likewise in your example, saying that "her head came back up" indicates to the reader that her head was down to begin with. The word "back" alone merely means to return to the position it was in before. You could just as easily say "her head came back down".

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The relevant definitions of of back from the Oxford dictionary are quoted below:

In her head came back, it's meaning 1.1:

1.1 Expressing movement of the body into a reclining position

In the example below, she relaxed her neck, allowing her head to move backwards and possibly downwards, so that it rested against- or maybe on- his upper arm:

Her head came back, a pleasing heaviness against his upper arm

In her head came back up, it's meaning 2:

  1. So as to return to an earlier or normal position or condition

This means the her head was upright, then she bent her head down, then her head returned to the upright position. Here is an instance of this usage:

Her head came back up, and both eyes bored into mine

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You'd need to say her head came back up in the scenario in your example, where a woman or girl bumps into a man because she is presumably looking down at the ground for some reason.

If someone is looking over her shoulder, her head can "come back around".

It would be odd to say "her head came back" in the sense of "returned to its normal place or position, or to the place|position it had left" without some additional locative word or phrase such as "up", "down", or "around". Of course you could dream up contexts for that phrase, but they would be far-fetched.

  • "where a woman or girl bumps into a man because she is presumably looking down at the ground for some reason." Or a phone screen these days. – Michael Harvey Oct 17 '18 at 16:04

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