1

A. He backs.

B. He is back.

C. he will be back

What is the difference in meaning between these?

  • Usage (C) reminds me of Arnold Schwarzenegger's famous line from The Terminator, when he says "I'll be back." Schwarzenegger said it with a very strong Austrian accent. – Jasper Aug 7 '15 at 19:19
9

Back in B. and C. is a locative expression meaning, approximately, "once again at the place he left earlier". The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language would classify it as an "intransitive preposition", meaning one which does not take an explicit object. Its real-life object can be inferred from context; we have no way of knowing whether back here or back there or back home is meant.

Locative expressions may serve syntactically as nominals, adjectivals or adverbials; in these two sentences, where it is the complement of the complement be, it is best understood as an adjectival, naming the location of the subject. The two sentences differ only in tense—the time to which they refer.

Backs in A. is an intransitive verb meaning "moves backward". It is very unusual to see it by itself this way; ordinarily it would be followed by a locative expression describing a goal or path: He backs up, He backs away, He backs into the corner, or something of that sort.

| improve this answer | |
  • 8
    There is an alternate interpretation of A... particularly common with Kickstarter and other crowdsourcing - "Backs" meaning supports. Just part of my thoughts when I looked at this one. – Catija Aug 7 '15 at 19:07
  • 3
    @Catija: But that's a transitive verb, which requires an object, so it cannot be used as it is in OP's sentence A. The intransitive meaning is just possible. ... Note that there are also transitive versions which take a locative complement in addition to the direct object: He backed the car into the garage, He backed him into a corner. The first can dispense with the locative, but the second cannot. – StoneyB on hiatus Aug 7 '15 at 19:11
  • 1
    Maybe obvious, but just to be complete: B is present tense while C is future. – Jay Aug 7 '15 at 20:03
  • @StoneyB: The lack of object assumes that the OP is giving complete example sentences. And in general use it would, I think, be much more common to say "backs up" rather than just "backs". (Though even as I write, I see that has two distinctly different meanings :-)) – jamesqf Aug 7 '15 at 23:28
  • @jamesqf That's exactly what I say in my last paragraph. – StoneyB on hiatus Aug 8 '15 at 0:05

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.