The phrasal verb, "go back", is one of the simpler phrasal verbs to learn. It's most obvious meaning is "return to a person, place, subject or activity", but the meanings we will study today are, "to have existed since or for a particular time", and, "to have known someone for a long time".
Read the conversations below to see how to use "go back" with these two meanings.
Verbs of similar meaning:
have existed; have known
This is mostly used in the present tense, but it can occasionally be used in the past tense.
1. go back (present tense)
i) Freda is watching a traditional dance in Bali with her Balinese friend.
Freda: Wow. That dance was amazing!
Friend: I'm glad you liked it.
Freda: Have people been dancing like this in Bali for a long time?
Friend: Oh yes. The dance you saw today goes back centuries.
ii) Jamie is visiting a friend in Japan. They are sightseeing together in the city of Nara.
Jamie: How old are these buildings? They look so old.
Hiroko: The buildings in some parts of Nara go back 1,200 years.
Hiroko: Yes. Actually the oldest wooden building in the world is just over there. Let's go take a look.
Jamie: Wow. Let's go.
iii) Claire is meeting with her company's supplier of steel. She needs to negotiate a better price with the supplier, because her company is not making enough profit.
Claire: Mr. Robson. Thanks for coming.
Robson: It's my pleasure.
Claire: I'd like to discuss our procurement plans for next year.
Robson: I see.
Claire: I realize this company's relationship with Robson Steel goes back many years, but, unfortunately, last year profits were down and I've been asked to renegotiate our supply contracts. I hope you understand.
Robson: Let's see what we can do.
iv) Rita is interviewing Stephen King, the famous horror author.
Rita: So, Stephen. When did you develop an interest in the horror genre?
Stephen: Actually, my interest in horror goes back to my childhood.
Stephen: Yes, I used to really enjoy reading ghost stories.
Rita: I see.
v) Edward and Pat have been friends for a very long time. They are celebrating Edward’s birthday together.
Patsy: Happy birthday, Eddy.
Edina: Thanks Pat. Pass me the champagne.
Patsy: Here you go. So how old are you now?
Edina: Twenty-nine. Same as last year, of course!
Patsy: You and I go back at least fifty years. Is it your seventieth birthday? Oh my God. It’s your seventieth birthday!
Edina: No, it’s not. And don’t tell anyone.
Patsy: Happy seventieth birthday, Eddy. Have some more champagne. I think you need it.
Edina: Thanks Pat.
2. went back (past tense)
i) Yasmine is visiting her old neighbourhood, where she lived as a child.
Yasmine: This is my street!
John: You used to live here when you were a kid?
Yasmine: Yep. But the big community hall has gone.
John: Community hall?
Yasmine: Yes. There used to be a beautiful red brick building on the corner that went back to the 19th century. It was used as a community hall.
John: Well, now there's just a block of flats.
Yasmine: I know. That's a shame. It was such a lovely building.
ii) Tim is on a history tour in rural Japan. He is asking the tour guide some questions.
Tim: So, I read that the women on this island used to catch sea snakes for food. Is that right?
Guide: Yes. Actually, the practice went back hundreds of years.
Tim: What happened?
Guide: Well, the old ways are gone now and the women who knew how to hunt sea snakes have all died.
Tim: That’s too bad.
Guide: Yes, I suppose so. But, necessity is the mother of invention, right? If we need to catch sea snakes again in the future, somebody will learn how to do it and teach others. Time moves on.
Tim: I suppose so.
If you found these conversations useful, check out my new book which contains over 450 original conversations like this plus over 200 exercises!