I came across the expression of "<somebody> returned a hero" in the context below,

With Chonghou in prison, Zeng Jize, son of a celebrated general, Zeng Guofan, was sent to Russia to renegotiate the treaty. Zeng’s chief qualifications seem to have been arrogance and an unwillingness to compromise. The Russians were reluctant to go to war, and ultimately gave the Chinese much of what they wanted. Zeng returned a hero, and the hardliners learned a lesson of dubious value: never give ground to foreigners.

The short sentence as a whole is somewhat clear in its meaning. I reckon it means that Zeng returned to his homeland in glory like a hero.

If my reckoning is right, then I can say for sure there is an ellipsis in this expression. Maybe an "as" or "like" has been omitted. If that's the case, is “as” or “like” dispensable in all such expressions?

For instance, what about these sentence,

  1. He works (as) a cashier.

  2. She is employed (as) a fashion model.

  3. They are treated (like) children.

  4. This candy tastes (like) peppermint.

Are they still correct without "as" or "like"?

  • Wait a minute! Is there a "being" there being omitted? "He returned being a hero"? "Being" can be omitted in some cases. Am I right?
    – dennylv
    Commented Dec 3, 2015 at 2:10
  • 1. cannot omit as, 2. can omit as (but generally you'd also omit "fashion") - "She is employed a model", 3. cannot omit like, 4. cannot omit like. I'm not entirely sure what the exact rules are but only 2 sounds right.
    – slebetman
    Commented Dec 3, 2015 at 9:19
  • denny, please refrain from making comments iike "I'm still waiting for an answer." Such remarks are distracting clutter, and time-consuming for the moderation team to clean up. As we've said before, you should plan on waiting at least a day. Besides, the Stack Exchange has built-in mechanisms to communicate this sentiment: unaccepted answers and bounties.
    – J.R.
    Commented Dec 3, 2015 at 10:04

3 Answers 3


First, your four sentences are all wrong without the like or as.

  • He works as a cashier. He is a cashier. But not: He works a cashier. (That actually would mean he is trying to swindle or trick a cashier.)

  • They are treated like children. They get child-like treatment. But not: They are treated children. (That sounds like I'm pointing at a group of children who are going through chemotherapy.)

So, why is "He returned a hero" considered acceptable English? Good question. (Great question, actually; that's why I upvoted it.) It's just the way we can use words like hero with verbs like leave and return; sometimes the "as" can be omitted. I could also say:

He left a hero, he returned in disgrace.

He left a pauper, he returned a rich man.

You could also use this construct with a verb like finish:

He played 12 years in the league as a premier forward. He finished his career a hero, having finally brought a championship to the city.

As for why this doesn't readily carry over to sentences about employment status or the taste of candy, I don't know if I can explain that, or come up with any quick test that would let a learner know when the as can be omitted, and when it must be retained.


It only can mean "returned back to the place, this time as a hero"

If he was a hero, and then stopped being a hero, and then become a hero once more, the phrase would be "Zeng returned to being a hero".

  • "being"! Yes, That's it! I guess "being" is the key to this sentence.
    – dennylv
    Commented Dec 3, 2015 at 2:12
  • 1
    @dennylv Though I agree that we can understand the sentence with ellipsis, I don't think we have to. For example, consider another simple sentence: The coffee was served hot. You might find more information about this construction on ELL; look for "adjunct" or "subject complement". Commented Dec 3, 2015 at 4:58
  • I can't wait to know if the four sentences in my post are correct when "as" , "like" or "being" is omitted.
    – dennylv
    Commented Dec 3, 2015 at 5:07
  • 1
    @slebetman I don't quite agree that "as" is omitted in "Zeng returned a hero". I guess that would be "being" being omitted. Honestly, I don't think "He works a cashier" is correct without "as". I'm not sure.
    – dennylv
    Commented Dec 3, 2015 at 7:18
  • 2
    As I said. I think you've misunderstood this answer. This answer says that the missing word is "as" since it is the only valid interpretation of the sentence "Zeng returned a hero". If Zeng was a hero then not a hero then became a hero again then the sentence must be "Zeng returned to being a hero" and it cannot be "Zeng returned a hero". The sentence "Zeng returned a here" can only mean "Zeng returned as a hero".
    – slebetman
    Commented Dec 3, 2015 at 7:54

It's a fairly rare, rather obscure and somewhat archaic (although still in use) form, where the verb return combines the action (of returning) and features of the word become.

It's rarely used in other contexts.

he returned a hero,

he returned a coward,

he returned a disgrace to his nation

These should be understood as he became [something], as he returned.

There is nothing missing, it's just a rare way of phrasing this kind of sentence, where the word "return" obtains an extra grammatical property of acting like "become".

There are some more words that can obtain this property; combining motion and "morphing" - but you'll see them even more rarely in this form: "appear", "arise", "emerge", "depart".

he departed a boy, and returned a man.

  • This is by far the best answer as it actually explains why the construction is acceptable
    – qdread
    Commented Jan 26, 2023 at 16:40

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