Definition of back in English:

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Pronunciation: /bak/


1The rear surface of the human body from the shoulders to the hips: he lay on his back Forbes slapped me on the back [as modifier]: back pain
More example sentences
  • At times I was unable to walk and had severe pain in the lower back, neck and shoulders all the time.
  • I smiled, putting one hand on his shoulder and tapping the back of some tall guy in front of us.
  • They were leaning on each other's shoulders, with their backs to the tombstone.
1.1The upper surface of an animal’s body that corresponds to a person’s back.
Example sentences
  • They are similar to large mousetraps and are designed to break the back of an animal.
  • I wonder who can tell me what you would call that ugly animal with a great big hump on its back that is condemned to live in a desert.
  • Fences were put up, but shelter and feed were lacking; during the harsh winters, snow would pile high on the animals' backs.
1.2The spine of a person or animal.
Example sentences
  • While the accident left her with a broken back and severed spine, it did not stifle her sense of adventure.
  • MacManaway diagnosed a trapped nerve in the middle of her back and manipulated her spine to ease the pain.
  • He was placed on a spine board after damaging his back, neck and head in the crash.
spine, backbone, spinal column, vertebral column
1.3The part of a chair against which the sitter’s back rests.
Example sentences
  • Their legs were tucked up in front of them, and their arms rested over the back of the chair.
  • He has poured himself a glass of champagne and put his arm around her, resting his hand on the back of her wooden chair.
  • His ancestors were cobblers but diversified into making vividly embroidered leather bags, wallets and chair backs.
1.4The part of a garment that covers a person’s back.
Example sentences
  • With low backs and plunging necklines, this fashion has become more and more popular among teenagers and adults alike and local swimwear stores say sales are booming.
  • For evening, the collection is a procession of gathers, plunging necklines and backs, irregular lines.
  • The offensive slogan is written is written in letters six inches high on the back of the garment.
1.5A person’s back regarded as carrying a load or bearing an imposition: they wanted the government off their backs
More example sentences
  • We went to a nearby restaurant and ate our fill and we were making the most noise cheering and laughing away for our massive success and the great load off our backs.
  • Vote to get government off our backs.
  • Tonight, is it enough to get the paparazzi off their backs?
2The side or part of something that is away from the spectator or from the direction in which it moves or faces; the rear: at the back of the hotel is a secluded garden an empty spot in the back of the plane
More example sentences
  • Charlton and Pegg said they weren't taking any chances and moved to the back of the plane.
  • With the radiator out of the way now it was time to move on to the back of the truck and the motherboard mounting.
  • The supermodel and her companion then stood up and moved to the back of the bar.
rear, rear side, other side;
Nautical  stern
end, tail end, rear end, rear, tail, tag end
2.1 [in singular] The position directly behind someone or something: she unbuttoned her dress from the back
More example sentences
  • We did the interview, and then I saw his eyes widen, and I felt a presence at my back.
  • At least for the last four or five miles today the wind was at our back.
  • Hearts were now surging forward with a strong wind at their back and they swept further into the lead six minutes later.
2.2The side or part of an object opposed to the one that is normally seen or used; the less active, visible, or important part of something: write on the back of a postcard he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand
More example sentences
  • Some of the messages written on the back of the tulip postcards are so sweet and encouraging.
  • I have a series of photos of the family that I like very much because someone wrote on the backs of them describing the subject and where the photo was taken.
  • When police examined his car, left on the motorway, they found a note written on the back of a bus timetable.
reverse, other side, underside;
informal flip side
3A player in a field game whose initial position is behind the front line: their backs showed some impressive running and passing
More example sentences
  • In the first two games, the defensive backs seemed indecisive, perhaps the result of playing off receivers.
  • He still can shadow the game's best receivers and is an excellent role model for the team's young defensive backs.
  • The team's defensive backs no longer are being picked on.


1Toward the rear; in the opposite direction from the one that one is facing or traveling: she moved back a pace she walked away without looking back
More example sentences
  • The foreshortened platform encouraged the actors to move back toward the scenic area of the stage.
  • Is it not better to take one step in the right direction than two back into destruction.
  • Nichole was jerked back towards Tristan as he grabbed the wrist on her other arm.
backward, behind one, to one's rear, rearward;
away, off
1.1Expressing movement of the body into a reclining position: he leaned back in his chair sit back and relax
More example sentences
  • It permitted him to relax, lean back in the big comfortable seat and watch the scenery go by.
  • The job was done in reasonably quick order and I leaned back to relax, panic over.
  • There was nothing to do but sit very still on the perfect settee without leaning back so as not to dent it.
1.2At a distance away: I thought you were miles back the officer pushed the crowd back
More example sentences
  • Within half an hour traffic tailed back 10 miles as far back as the West Yorkshire border.
  • He had left the village some miles back and was deep in the English countryside now.
  • Shortly before dawn, the police began pushing back the crowd from the centre of the square.
1.3 (back of) North American informal Behind: he knew that other people were back of him
2Expressing a return to an earlier or normal condition: she put the book back on the shelf drive to Montreal and back I went back to sleep he was given his job back
More example sentences
  • The secretary won her job back and the city has since been trying to do the same for its reputation.
  • Marcia is not interested in getting her job back, but wishes to warn others.
  • According to one press report, a union lawyer told him that there was no way for him to get his job back.
2.1Fashionable again: sideburns are back
More example sentences
  • First time round it was terribly trendy, but it's horrific that it's actually back in fashion.
  • Today tying the knot is back in fashion, although the ceremony is as likely to take place in a stately home as a church.
  • Then we were in a band called Flared Generation, where we tried to bring flares back into fashion.
3In or into the past: he made his fortune back in 1955
More example sentences
  • Then last Friday they delivered a bunch of letters and packages some dating back to the past two years.
  • That was just a fortune to me back in the 1960s, so for a week or so I was a high roller.
  • Many times, historical fiction does the best job of leading the mind's eye back to past monarchs.
ago, earlier, previously, before, in the past
3.1At a place previously left or mentioned: the folks back home are counting on him
More example sentences
  • What is certain is that it will be very hard for the three men to slip back into their previous lives.
  • Meanwhile back in reality Kate, Locke and Michael have decided to brave the forest to hunt for food.
  • Wouldn't it be a good thing for the folks back home to be told this?
4In return: they wrote back to me
More example sentences
  • Since I had, as usual, gone to almost obsessive lengths to get my facts right, I wrote back.
  • He must've thought I was grinning at him, so he smiled back and even gave me a little wave.
  • He wrote back and said he hopes that they hear from me as the inquiry progresses.


1 [with object] Give financial, material, or moral support to: he had a newspaper empire backing him go up there and tell them—I’ll back you up
More example sentences
  • And the Executive has still not committed to backing the project financially.
  • Such appeals, backed by suitable financial compensation, can be very effective.
  • Against the odds he set up the choir, financially backed by Manchester city council.
sponsor, finance, put up the money for, fund, subsidize, underwrite, be a patron of, act as guarantor of
informal foot the bill for, pick up the tab for
bankroll, stake
support, endorse, sanction, approve of, give one's blessing to, smile on, favor, advocate, promote, uphold, champion;
vote for, ally oneself with, stand behind, stick by, side with, be on the side of, defend, take up the cudgels for;
informal throw one's weight behind
support, stand by, give one's support to, side with, be on someone's side, take someone's side, take someone's part;
vouch for
1.1Bet money on (a person or animal) winning a race or contest: he backed the horse at 33-1
More example sentences
  • It takes the pressure off and you can be more selective about which races you back horses in.
  • Then again, no horse as won the Melbourne Cup two years in a row, and I backed the winning horse this year.
  • It gives viewers good idea of the factors that go into backing successful racehorses
bet on, gamble on, stake money on
1.2Be in favor of: over 97 percent backed the changes
More example sentences
  • A recent poll found that 62 percent of Spaniards backed the legislation.
  • As for the issue in general, an ABC / Washington Post poll found that only 17 percent of respondents backed the proposal.
  • More than sixty percent of California voters backed Proposition 36.
1.3Supplement in order to reinforce or strengthen: U.S. troops were backed up by forces from European countries
More example sentences
  • He also said the ‘old doctrine of deterrence’ was no longer enough and United Nations resolutions must now be backed by the threat of military force.
  • India's military strength, backed by a nuclear deterrent, is growing.
  • When dealing with a brutal regime, diplomacy must be backed by credible force.
2 [with object] Cover the back of (an object) in order to support, protect, or decorate it: a mirror backed with tortoiseshell
More example sentences
  • Candlestick stems are topped with silk shades, wall lights are backed with Venetian mirrors and slender brass stems are capped by plated shades.
  • The large mirror was backed with silver.
  • This is a thin film that's been coated onto a flexible plastic material backed by a strong glue.
2.1(Especially in popular music) provide musical accompaniment to (a singer or musician): brisk guitar work backed by drums, bass, fiddle, and accordion
More example sentences
  • Central Band's rhythm section also backed singer/songwriter Drew McAlister and the horn section joined in with The Choirboys.
  • This track's got it all: rhythmic, sharp guitar riffs backed by pounding kick drum and throbbing bass - and the cowbell!
  • Yep, aggressive lyrics and guitar riffs, all backed by the trademark thumping drums, with only moments of calm to provide a respite from the headbanging.
2.2Put a song or piece of music on the less important side of (a recording): the new single is backed with a track from the LP
More example sentences
  • For the purists and strays who like to compare remix treatments with the originals, this is backed by the original album version.
3 [no object] Walk or drive backward: she tried to back away backing down the stairs figurative the administration backed away from the plan [with object]: he backed the Mercedes into the yard
More example sentences
  • She backed away from him, walking a short distance away.
  • Kiara slowly backed away from the door and walked towards her desk.
  • The government has backed away from announcing changes to its controversial policy in a move that has angered both farming and green groups.
reverse, draw back, step back, move backward, back off, pull back, retreat, withdraw, give ground, backtrack, retrace one's steps, recede
3.1(Of the wind) change direction counterclockwise around the points of the compass: the wind had backed to the northwest The opposite of veer1.
More example sentences
  • With winds backing to the south and the southwest the fall-out from nuclear explosions would be driven into Afghanistan and China.
  • But when the wind is backed slightly towards the northwest the winds come over a longer stretch of the North Sea bringing more cloud.
3.2 [with object] Sailing Put (a sail) aback in order to slow the vessel down.
Example sentences
  • Hornblower watched as both ships backed the mainsails, turned the helm hard over, and took up the prescribed position.
  • With smooth proficiency, the trimmers backed the jib, and the mainsail was eased, swinging the bow around.
  • The captain backs the vessel's huge dive platform up to the sites.
4 [no object] (Of a property) have its back adjacent to (a piece of land or body of water): a row of cottages backed on the water his garage wall backs onto the neighboring property
More example sentences
  • Priciest of them - at £475,000-is a three-storey brick-built building backing on to the city walls.
  • Demolition is planned for a disused printworks called the McCormick Building, which backs on to the Mas nightclub in Royal Exchange Square, in the centre of the city's shopping district.
  • The enclosure - an area of grass the size of a small room surrounded by a 3.5m-high wire fence backing on to a demountable building - had been purpose-built for Neil.
4.1 [with object] (usually be backed) Lie behind or at the back of: the promenade is backed by lots of cafes
More example sentences
  • We went to the south, which I found very gracious, with its beautiful beaches backed by mountains covered with tea and spice plantations.
  • The Camai stage in the school gym was backed with six large panels decorated with masks and sculptures.
  • The highlight of the gig was Superhero Music, backed with fantastic visuals on the cinema screen - the tune whisks you off to another world.


1Of or at the back of something: the back garden the back pocket of his jeans
More example sentences
  • Even on Sundays, people would be looking at cars and have full view into our back garden.
  • No doubt he steered clear of the back garden view as night fell on Caledonian Stadium.
  • The master bedroom is painted in cream and has great views of the colourful back garden.
rear, rearmost, backmost, hind, hindmost, hinder, posterior
1.1Situated in a remote or subsidiary position: back roads
More example sentences
  • He claimed there was a lack of urgency to tackle safety problems on the A64 and also local back roads.
  • A full moon lit their way as they slipped down a back road and slit the chain-link fence with bolt cutters.
  • There are dozens of tech success stories hidden down back roads all over the country.
2(Especially of wages or something published or released) from or relating to the past: she was owed back pay
More example sentences
  • It has to be applied for and if left longer than three months after the retirement birthday, no back pay will be given.
  • They must pay off their back tax and show that the vehicles are properly insured before they can be driven away.
  • Registration books and all the back registration to pay are a few of the hassles.
past, old, previous, earlier, former, out of date
3Directed toward the rear or in a reversed course: back currents
4 Phonetics (Of a sound) articulated at the back of the mouth.
Example sentences
  • Back vowels have their name because the sound resonates at the back of the mouth.
  • Canadian back vowels are pronounced with the tongue bunched slightly.
  • Finnish is well known for possessing a front-back vowel harmony system.



at someone's back

In pursuit or support of someone.
Example sentences
  • You get the ball and you give it straight away as you have a man at your back.
  • I just jumped down into this crevice, behind this big boulder and then there's a god almighty ‘bang’ as the forth RPG comes in at my back.
  • ‘I've got the will of the people at my back,’ he said at the moment of victory.

back and fill

Trim the sails of a vessel so that the wind alternately fills and spills out of them, in order to maneuver in a limited space.
Example sentences
  • Sure, they make compromises and back and fill with the wind.
2.1Zigzag or vacillate.
Example sentences
  • Even as she wants to advance boldly, therefore, she is required by the evidence to back and fill, leaving the reader with a bewildering combination of affirmation and qualification.

back and forth

To and fro.
Example sentences
  • Radio messages flew back and forth to Moscow asking what to do before the situation was resolved.
  • The football was frantic and in the stands the chants bounced back and forth.
  • Mrs Holmes says so many lorries come back and forth that it can be dangerous walking through the area.

someone's back is turned

Someone’s attention is elsewhere: he kissed her quickly, when the landlady’s back was turned
More example sentences
  • Dogs slip free of their leases whenever your back is turned.
  • Mothers are, of course, notorious for clearing your most favourite possessions out of your bedroom the moment your back is turned.
  • When the resident 's back is turned, she steals a purse and runs off.

the back of (the) beyond

A remote or inaccessible place.
Example sentences
  • If you live in a little village in the back of beyond, people still hiss at you in the street if you display signs of being remotely unusual.
  • Kubu Island sits on the southernmost tip of the Makgadikgadi Pan, Botswana: if you've ever wanted to know what lies behind the back of beyond, this is probably it…
  • But I thought I had come to the back of beyond as the train took us across this great country.

the back of one's mind

Used to express that something is in one’s mind but is not consciously thought of or remembered: she had a little nagging worry at the back of her mind
More example sentences
  • But, she said, there was always the worry at the back of your mind about future flooding.
  • Even when you had successfully performed every other task, the problem of money always remained, a persistent, nagging worry at the back of one's mind.
  • I had these small worries in the back of my mind that I didn't want to grow and haunt me.

back to front

Pronunciation: /ˌbak tə ˈfrənt/
British Reversed; backward: the exhausts had been fitted back to front a back-to-front baseball cap
More example sentences
  • The top is a unique reversible front to back, back to front style.
  • ‘You know, the baseball caps on back to front, mobile phone glued to the ear, the unbridled arrogance,’ he recalled.
  • The whole thing seemed upside down, back to front.

back through the box

see box1.

back water

Reverse the action of the oars while rowing, causing a boat to slow down or stop.
Example sentences
  • After a successful ram, ships could back water and go after another enemy, but one wonders how many such shocks a ship could take.

back the wrong horse

Make a wrong or inappropriate choice.
Example sentences
  • Is it time to say sorry for backing the wrong horse?
  • I think most of the critics are backing the wrong horse in seeing the issue of testing for recreational drugs as a make or break issue.
  • Then he got down on one knee and said, ‘I'm sorry we backed the wrong horse.'

behind someone's back

Without a person’s knowledge and in an unfair or dishonorable way: Carla made fun of him behind his back
More example sentences
  • In fact he had done many a vile thing behind her back without her knowledge.
  • It can help when you need to brag or blow off steam or tell a secret or even talk behind someone's back.
  • We're having a secret rendezvous behind Droven 's back.
secretly, without someone's knowledge, on the sly, slyly, sneakily, covertly, surreptitiously, furtively

get (or put) someone's back up

Make someone annoyed or angry.
Example sentences
  • If someone approaches in an aggressive manner then it puts your back up, but we have bent over backwards to help people.
  • I can tell when people are smoking nearby and I'm out in the open air and it just puts my back up.
  • It just put my back up and made me more and more determined that I was going to speak out.

in back

North American At the back of something, especially a building: my dad demolished an old shed in back of his barn
More example sentences
  • I could see a garden and path leading into the forest, which was in back of the building.
  • My right leg is a little sore in back, and that just came about today.
  • I felt my eyes roll in back of my head, the way it happens when you are falling asleep while watching TV.

know something like the back of one's hand

Be entirely familiar with a place or route.
Example sentences
  • He knew the city like the back of his hand but tonight he couldn't see anything resembling a familiar landmark.
  • John races locally and knows the trails like the back of his hand, so keeping up with him was no easy task.
  • He has been working the land at Mersehead, on the Solway Firth, for 30 years, and knows it like the back of his hand.

on one's back

In bed recovering from an injury or illness.
Example sentences
  • Children with such injuries should be kept on their back with a protective shield over the eye if possible.
  • As a patient, you spend a great deal of time, sometimes days at a time in severe situations, flat on your back and staring at stained acoustic tiles.
  • For the next six years, I spent most of my days flat on my back in unrelenting pain.
15.1Full-length on the ground: he slipped off the heap and landed flat on his back
More example sentences
  • ‘When you're lying on the ground, flat on your back, you can't fall any further,’ he said.
  • I hit the concrete ground flat on my back, my bag falling from my hands with a ‘thud’ next to me.
  • The bottle rolled under my foot, and I fell flat on my back, sending my tray of trash in the air.

put one's back into

Approach (a task) with vigor.
Example sentences
  • Staten put his back into the task now facing him with renewed vigour.
  • He is the fastest bowler in the world, but he was not really putting his back into it.
  • Rosamund Young is putting her back into her campaign by picking up litter from the hedgerows, lay-bys and verges of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

turn one's back on

Ignore (someone) by turning away.
Example sentences
  • Jessie's already in the gym, and when she sees me walk in with Eva she just turns her back on me and IGNORES me.
  • You just had to walk away, turn your back on me, ignore me.
  • Rather oddly, the fireman sporting a handlebar moustache about to sip a saucer of hot cocoa is ignoring the fire ragtag behind him and turns his back on two colleagues who are tackling it.
17.1Reject or abandon: she turned her back on her career to devote her life to animals
More example sentences
  • I have got a job and have turned my back on my previous lifestyle.
  • Here is a gentleman who wants to turn his back on his previous lifestyle and looks to the future with some hope.
  • But she had thrown them away, turned her back on them to chase heroism.

with one's back to (or up against) the wall

In a desperate situation; hard-pressed.
Example sentences
  • He is always at his best with his back to the wall.
  • Facing defeat and with his back to the wall, he played dirty.
  • In fact the most terrifying scenario I could imagine is if the tyrant found himself with his back to the wall.

Phrasal verbs


back down

Withdraw a claim or assertion in the face of opposition: the contenders backed down from their original pledge
More example sentences
  • They can claim that Sonia backed down in the face of their threats.
  • The company backed down and withdrew the T-shirt uniform after a public outcry.
  • On the same day, management backed down, agreeing to withdraw the legal action.
give in, concede defeat, surrender, yield, submit, climb down, concede, reconsider;
backtrack, backpedal

back off

Draw back from action or confrontation: they backed off from fundamental reform of the system
More example sentences
  • The leader of the union has consistently backed off from any confrontation with the government.
  • It is clear that some unions have backed off from any major confrontations.
  • The brothers never backed off from a challenge.
North American another way of saying back down.
Example sentences
  • I just received word that the union is backing off.
  • She isn't really backing off; she says that her remarks were ‘off the cuff,’ but hasn't disavowed them.
  • So, are Republican congressional leaders backing off?

back out

Withdraw from a commitment: if he backs out of the deal they’ll sue him
More example sentences
  • The excitement would die down soon enough, and the school would retreat back out of the public eye.
  • The doctor backed out of his contractual responsibility to provide out of hours care for his patients.
  • No one wants to absorb the cost if someone in a group backs out.

back up

1(Of vehicles) form a line due to congestion: the traffic began to back up
More example sentences
  • It is hoped this will combat problems resulting from the queue of taxis backing up into Kings Road.
  • Contractors are due to start work on January 13 to put in place a series of initiatives that they hope will help to ease congestion at locations where traffic constantly backs up.
  • Cars and other vehicles queued for hours to reach the fair, backing up through Stow Square and up to the Fosseway.
2(Of running water) accumulate behind an obstruction.
Example sentences
  • Often the water backs up because the drains are clogged.
  • When the sewers become overwhelmed with rainwater the overflows work to ensure water is prevented from backing up in the system.
  • When the foul water sewer is overcharged, the foul water backs up and can force open the manhole cover in Mr. Marcic's front garden, thereby escaping into the garden.

back something up

Make a spare copy of data or a disk.
Example sentences
  • Knowing the number and size of files and size is important if you need to make copies of data files and back them up to a floppy disk.
  • Once the data is backed up to disk, business operations can proceed at a normal pace and important data protection operations can take place.
  • Storing this content as if it's a simple computer file, and thus simply backing it up to disk, is not the optimal approach.
(usually be backed up)5.1 Cause vehicles to form into a queue due to congestion: the traffic was backed up a couple of miles in each direction
More example sentences
  • On several mornings, vehicles were backed up from the Park Hotel Roundabout to the Burgery at around 9 am, but conditions had improved by the end of the week.
  • Not infrequently, vehicles are backed up beyond Arthur Road in Durnsford, Leopold in Gap, and Blackshaw in Plough.
  • There was no point setting off right away - all the cars were backed up as they queued to get out, so I sat for an hour reading The Guardian with the heater on full fan to dry my jeans.


Old English bæc, of Germanic origin; related to Middle Dutch and Old Norse bak. The adverb use dates from late Middle English and is a shortening of aback.

  • Old English back has been prolific in forming compounds, phrases and popular expressions. If you get someone's back up you make them annoyed. The image is that of a cat arching its back when angry or threatened. The idea is recorded as early as 1728: a character in The Provok'd Husband, a comic play of that year by John Vanbrugh (c.1664–1726) and Colley Cibber (1671–1757), remarks, ‘How her back will be up then, when she meets me!’ Sir Walter Scott was the first to use the back of beyond, in 1816. In Australia the back of beyond is back o'Bourke, Bourke being a remote town in New South Wales. In America there have been backwoods since the early 18th century. Failure has sent people back to square one since the 1950s. This possibly comes from a board game such as Snakes and Ladders, in which the board has some squares that send a player who lands on them back to the beginning or to an earlier position. Back to the drawing board does not seem to have been used until the 1940s, though drawing boards themselves have been known by that name from the early 18th century. Andrew Johnson, the 17th president of the USA, gave us the phrase to take a back seat. He said in 1868 after the American Civil War that ‘in the work of Reconstruction traitors should take back seats’. In the 20th century the car brought with it the back-seat driver. By the 1950s the term appears in other contexts: in 1955 The Times reported a comment that ‘it was contrary to democracy for elected members to consult “pressure groups” and “back-seat drivers” ’. See also nimby

Words that rhyme with back

aback, alack, attack, black, brack, clack, claque, crack, Dirac, drack, flack, flak, hack, jack, Kazakh, knack, lack, lakh, mac, mach, Nagorno-Karabakh, pack, pitchblack, plaque, quack, rack, sac, sack, shack, shellac, slack, smack, snack, stack, tach, tack, thwack, track, vac, wack, whack, wrack, yak, Zack

For editors and proofreaders

Syllabification: back

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