As the English idiom says, sometimes when it rains it pours. Though this expression comes from weather, its meaning – that you can never predict how much of something you will receive – is equally applicable to the language itself. Take the subject of our second installment on phrasal verbs: back. From this one verb more than half a dozen phrasal verbs can be derived. Here are a few of the most popular:
Back Down/ – to give up or surrender
- When arguing with friends it is sometimes better back down than to win. By doing that no one’s feelings will get hurt and you can preserve the relationship.
Back Out/ – to fail to keep true to a promise or the terms of agreement
- Five years after they signed the peace treaty our neighbors to the north backed out. By violating such an important part of the agreement they signaled that they were ready to restart the conflict.
Note: A three-word version of this phrasal verb – back out of – also exists. Though the meaning is the same, unlike the back out it can be followed by its object. As a result it is used slightly differently:
- Five years after they signed the peace treaty our neighbors to the north backed out of the agreement and signaled that they were ready to restart the conflict.
Back … Up – to provide evidence or support
- New theories often need strong evidence to back up their unusual claims.
Back … Up – to save Because computer viruses are so dangerous it is important to back important files up and store them in a safe place.
Note: As the example above shows, this use of back up is closely linked to computers. Though both are separable the context should make the meaning clear!
Back Up/ – to reverse in direction
- Many first-time drivers finding backing up to be a bit difficult. Doing everything backwards can be a real challenge!