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I want to tell someone the following:
"I bring an e-reader with me on the bus every day so that I have something to do during my commute to work."
Does the phrase "commute to work" clearly refer to the trip there and the trip back from work? Or is it more proper to say "commute to and from work" in order to ensure that it is clear that I mean both directions?

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It's not the destination, but the journey that counts. –  whoabackoff Jul 27 '11 at 20:40
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5 Answers 5

up vote 16 down vote accepted

Using the word 'to' adds a sense of direction (that being towards place of work).

I would use:

"my daily commute"

since the word commute already describes the travel between work.

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Agreed "to" slightly implies "towards place of work", but bearing in mind people don't normally commute "from" work "towards home", I think you read too much into that. –  FumbleFingers Jul 27 '11 at 23:00
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In OP's context, "commute" would normally include both journeys, but since "commuting" in this sense invariably implies "to and from work", the explicit mention of "to work" could mean only the outward journey.

Having said that, I think it would be a perverse interpretation to automatically assume only the outward journey was intended. But I wouldn't think it was unusual if the utterance went on to force that interpretation...

...so I have something to do during my commute to work, but on the return journey I have a drink in the buffet car with colleagues.

Here's an NGram showing over 110K instances of "commute to", with less than 5K for "commute to and from". By definition 50% of every commuter's journeys are coming home – I seriously doubt they're talking about the outward journey over 95% of the time!

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Great answer, and grats on hitting 10k with it! +1 –  Kalamane Jul 27 '11 at 21:40
    
@Kalamane: Well, thank you for getting me there! (assuming it was you!) I don't normally take that much notice of the rep (I only have 10L because I have too much time on my hands), but I admit I was really waiting for that last upvote before I go off and do my crossword! Thanks again, and hope to see you up here with me soon enough! –  FumbleFingers Jul 27 '11 at 21:46
    
It's really my pleasure! –  Kalamane Jul 27 '11 at 21:52
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"Commute to work" does imply, as you suggest, your morning trip in the direction towards work. It is not obvious that it refers to both directions.

The first definition of 'to' in the OALD is:

(1) in the direction of something; towards something
I walked to the office.

Many other meanings are similar: the word that follows "to" will usually be understood to be the second half of a comparison, or the item that an action is directed toward. So, you are correct that

My commute to and from work

would be a clearer way to state this. You might also say, "my commute," if you don't mind a little ambiguity (a listener will have to determine from context whether you mean your commute in general or a specific direction), or "my morning and evening commute."

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No, it does not clearly refer to the trip both ways. I would understand it to be only the trip to work, or possibly to be unspecific about whether the return trip is included. If you need to be clear on this, you would have to specify that you actually mean both ways.

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@FumbleFingers: Of course not. I'm only saying that the phrase "commute to work" doesn't clearly specify if the return trip is included or not. You are making the same point in your answer, so I don't see your reason for a downvote... –  Guffa Jul 29 '11 at 23:29
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You're right. Sorry about that. Looking at it again I really don't know how I managed to misunderstand you. –  FumbleFingers Jul 30 '11 at 3:28
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"Commute" does have the meaning of going and coming back:

to travel regularly over some distance, as from a suburb into a city and back: He commutes to work by train.

However, it wouldn't be very clear. Not a lot of people know this. A better alternative is:

I bring an e-reader with me everyday so that I can have something to do when I journey to work to and fro.

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