Phrasal verbs for movement: To come back, go back, go out, come out and more

September 25th, 2018 / English grammar

The difference between to come back and to go back

In English there are two phrasal verbs for ‘to return’: ‘To go back’ and ‘to come back.’

There are two phrasal verbs for ‘to enter’: ‘To go out’ and ‘to come out.’

And there are two verbs for ‘to enter’: ‘To go in’and ‘to come in

Confusing ‘to go’ and ‘to come’ is a very common mistake among many English students. This phrasal verb list is to help you finally understand the difference to eliminate those mistakes forever.


Been and gone

First let’s start this lesson with ‘been’ from the verb ‘to be’ and ‘gone‘ from the verb ‘to go.’ ‘Been’ and ‘gone’ both mean ‘to go.’

To make this lesson work, you’re going to have to use your imagination. So let’s begin:

Scene 1# Your house and the supermarket

Imagine a man called John and his wife Sarah. Sarah and John live in a house together. One day you go to their house and ask John, ‘where is Sarah?’

John says, ‘Sarah has gone to the shops.’

Why do we use ‘has gone’? Well the reason is that Sarah has left John to go to another place and has not yet returned and so she has gone somewhere.

Next, you ask John, ‘where have you been today? He replies ‘I have been to the shops.’ John uses ‘has been’ because he left where you both currently are to go to another location, but he has returned.

John always speaks from your perspective. And from your perspective John has left and returned to the location where you are and Sarah has only left.

More examples:

‘I have been to Japan.’ (You went to Japan and have returned).

‘My sister has gone to school.’ (Your sister has gone to school and she is still there).


To go back and to come back

‘To go back’ and ‘to come back’ mean ‘to return.’ To explain, I would like you to imagine an office worker called Steve.

Scene 2# The office and your house

After spending the day at the office, Steve says to his boss, ‘I am going back home’.

Steve then calls his family back at home and says, ‘I am coming back home’.  For one person he uses ‘to go back’ and for another ‘to come back’. So what’s going on?

Well ‘to go back‘ means ‘to leave.’

‘To come back’ means ‘to return’.

From Steve’s boss’s perspective, Steve is leaving and so he says he is going back home. From Steve’s family’s point of view, he is returning and so he says he is coming back home.

Steve changes the verb depending on the perspective of the person he is talking to.

Steve then says to his boss, ‘I am coming back in the morning.’ Why does he do that? Well from Steve’s boss’s point of view, Steve is returning to her in the morning and so he is coming back to the office.

From Steve’s family’s perspective he is leaving again in the morning and so he is going back in the morning. ‘To come back’ and ‘to go back’.

This is a complicated language point. To show you what I mean, watch this video:


To go in and to come in

‘To go in’ and ‘to come in’ mean ‘to enter.’ For this I would like you to imagine a maths teacher called Mr Smith.

Scene #3 The hallway and the classroom

Mr Smith is teaching in the classroom.

Two of Mr Smith’s students, Stuart and Laura, are late for class. Stuart knocks on the classroom door. Mr Smith says ‘come in!

Stuart then says to Laura, ‘I’m going in’.

Why does Mr Smith say ‘come in’ and then Stuart say to Laura ‘go in’?

Well, ‘to come in‘ means that someone is already in a closed space like a room and observes you enter from the outside. From Mr Smith’s point of view Stuart is entering his space.

‘To go’ in means to be on the outside of a closed space and then to enter. From Laura’s perspective, Stuart is leaving her on the outside to go in. Both Stuart and Mr Smith speak from the point of view of the person they are talking to. ‘To come in’ and ‘to go in’.

More examples:

A patent is at a medical centre. Her name is called Sarah. The receptionist says, ‘you can go in now’ (she observes you leave to enter a closed space). Sarah says to the doctor, ‘I am coming in.’ (Sarah enters a closed space from the outside).


To go out and to come out

‘To go out’ and ‘to come out’ both mean ‘to exit.’

Scene #4 The classroom and the hallway

Mr Smith is still teaching his lesson. A difficult student Lucy starts talking on her mobile phone. This is against the school rules and so Mr Smith says to Lucy, ‘go out!

Lucy sends a message to Laura on the outside of the classroom to say  ‘I’m coming out.’ Mr Smith says ‘go out’ and Lucy says ‘come out’ so what’s going on?

Well again it all depends on the perspective of the person you are talking to. Mr Smith and Lucy are in the same closed space and so from Lucy’s perspective she is leaving to go to the outside.

Laura is on the outside and so from her perspective Lucy is exiting the closed space to come to her on the outside. For the personon the inside it’s ‘to go out.’ For the person on the outside it’s ‘to come out.’


Other ‘back’ verbs: Give back, put back, take back

Finally, let’s look at other verbs with ‘back’ which all mean ‘to return’.  There are: ‘To give back’, ‘to put back’ and ‘to take back’.

Scene #6 Two friends

There are two students in a lesson called Rachel and Sam.

Sam says to Rachel, ‘can I borrow your pencil?’ and Rachel gives him her pencil.

Later in the lesson Rachel needs her pencil and so she says, ‘give me back my pencil.’

Please note, this is not a very polite way to speak but it’s OK because Rachel and Sam are very good friends. So what does ‘to give back’ mean? Well it means to return something that was originally given.

Now, ‘to put back’. This is a shelf and this is a pile of books.

Usually the books live on the shelf but the students took them off to read. At the end of the day the teacher says ‘put the books back on the shelf.’ What does this mean? Right, to return something that was originally put.

You put a book on a shelf. And so to return it to its place you put it back.

Finally we have ‘to take back.’ Rachel buys some boots in the sale. But she decides she doesn’t like them and says to herself ‘I’ll take the boots back.’

What does ‘to take back’ mean? That’s right: to return something that was taken. This is most commonly used for returning items to shops.


And that’s it: Everything you need to know about English movement phrasal verbs.

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