Here is the full sentence. It tells about how difficult it was to look after an elderly parent, and that it has become even more difficult than it was at the beginning.

"...When she got where she couldn't tend to her toileting needs boy, I was thinking back longingly for the days when all I had to worry about was the fight to get her into a shower."

I have 2 questions with the above sentence:

1-When I looked up "think back", I checked 4 dictionaries. "Think back" seems to be used with prepositions "to/over/on", but it is used with "for" in the above sentence.

2-Is the sentence formal, grammatically correct and an idiomatic sentence? In other words, can this sentence be used in a formal environment?

  • Is there a typo? The word "boy" does not make sense in the sentence. Feb 5, 2022 at 18:18
  • I don't know. I copied the sentence as it is. I noticed "boy" does not makes sense, but because I am not native, I thought it might refer to an expression of dismay, resignation, frustration, or annoyance (sarcastic) as in the case of "Oh, boy. This is going to be a lot of work."
    – yunus
    Feb 5, 2022 at 20:54
  • "Boy" could make sense as you hint it, but the punctuation would have to be differently. It's a very oral expression, so I'm not sure how it should be punctuated in that sense, perhaps: "When she got where she couldn't tend to her toileting needs, boy (oh boy), I was thinking back....." I think I would also prefer a subject-verb inversion, especially if I said "boy," rather than "boy oh boy," as in ""When she got where she couldn't tend to her toileting needs, boy (oh boy) was I thinking back....." Feb 5, 2022 at 23:36

1 Answer 1


I think this sentence is an unconscious confusion between the expressions "think back to/over the days" and "long for the days." The use of "longingly" in the sentence is not necessary, so the construction that doesn't use it should be used. i.e., "thing back longingly to/over the days."

I believe it to be a mistake, but the expression is readily understood because of the presence of "longingly" and the existence of the expression "long for."

To me, "think back to the days," just means that you bring the days to mind. "Think back over the days" means you bring many aspects of many of the days to mind. You go through the days in your mind. I wouldn't use the expression "think back on the days" in my dialect of American English, but maybe some other dialects use it or others might find it acceptable.

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