I recently wrote the following sentence:

Please roll it back.

But if I were to describe the action on its own I would say:

This rollback was due to objections by the original author.

If I want to use "rollback" as a verb I have to split it up with an "it". My best guess is that "rollback" seems to be a compound noun birthed from a verb+adverb but we never got a verb compound form. Thus, the following is still incorrect:

Please rollback it.

Is there a term to describe the specific pair of "roll" and "back"? Describing this specific action will always need both words and the action itself now has an appropriate noun. But where did the combined verb form go?

  • 9
    This is the way that English works. Nouns combine; verbs stay separate. Your car can have a breakdown, but you don't say "my car breakdowned", you say "my car broke down". Similarly, you can't say "I breakupped" with my girlfriend, or "I am loginning" to my computer, even though you and your girlfriend have a breakup, and you have a login for your computer. Commented Feb 28, 2014 at 23:26
  • Related: english.stackexchange.com/questions/93243/… (which links to english.stackexchange.com/questions/5302/…)
    – Cascabel
    Commented Mar 1, 2014 at 20:20

4 Answers 4


Roll back is a standard phrasal verb. Roll is the verb part, and back is the particle.
Rollback (stress on first syllable) is an event nominalization from roll back (stress on second).

As a phrasal verb, roll back participates in the usual alternation with direct objects:

  • Roll the carpet/budget back. (Vb + Noun DO + Particle -- OK)
  • Roll back the carpet/budget. (Vb + Particle + Noun DO -- OK)
  • Roll it back. (Vb + Pronoun DO + Particle -- OK)
  • *Roll back it. (Vb + Particle + Pronoun DO -- NOT OK)

So there are two reasons why *rollback it is incorrect:

  1. rollback is a noun derived from roll back, and not a verb itself, so it can't take a direct object.
  2. roll back is a phrasal verb and must place pronoun direct objects between verb and particle.
  • 1
    It could work if you were turning something into a rollback, but that doesn't compute. If you are calling rake db:rollback, you're rolling the most recent migration back. rollback is a command to something. Like "hey, your changes broke the db, everyone roll back!!" In this case, it is yet another tech term, in this case, telling someone to roll back means run rake db:rollback. If someone had mis typed rake db:redo, but instead you wanted them to rollback, you could point to redo and say "rollback it", referring to turn redo into rollback.
    – dansch
    Commented Mar 1, 2014 at 2:09
  • 3
    @Funkodebat I didn't understand a word you said. Are you a computer programmer?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Mar 1, 2014 at 6:12
  • 2
    He means that it has a very specific (and extreme) meaning and context in information management. rollback is the name of a command (and therefore, a program that the command calls). This is on a command-line interface where all the commands are imperative verbs, and there is a convention that pronounced names can be used as verbs in speech. In this case, they are reified and don't follow the syntax of phrasal verbs, so that "rollback it" has a context and a meaning, and is not ungrammatical. This is how language changes; new environments, new adaptations. Commented Mar 1, 2014 at 16:12
  • 1
    I'm a RoR programmer myself. rollback is indeed the name of a command. But it does not immediately qualify it as a new verb with its own new rules separate from the verb "to roll back". Even if a term is added to the dictionary, it doesn't change grammar rules just because its meaning is specialised. There are furry mice in my house, computer mice on my desk, chocolate mice in my bag, and the Mice Galaxies in space. Likewise, it is bad grammar to say "We rollbacked the database last night." Instead, say "We rolled back the database." or "We rolled the database back." Commented Jun 29, 2015 at 9:33

According to the Google dictionary (though not as yet AHD or Collins), the word rollback is also a compound verb (sense (1) here ):


verb: rollback; 3rd person present: rollbacks; past tense: rollbacked; past participle: rollbacked; gerund or present participle: rollbacking; verb: roll-back; 3rd person present: roll-backs; past tense: roll-backed; past participle: roll-backed; gerund or present participle: roll-backing

  1. restore (a database) to a previously defined state.

It is such a recent development from roll + back that 'rollback it' sounds unnatural. 'Rollback X' (X a noun group other than a pronoun) sounds like 'roll back X' which isn't so outlandish. Almost certainly, 'rollback it' will become more common, especially with padding: 'rollback it to the last-but-one state'.

Compound verbs from the fusion of verb + adverb are usually head-second:

downsize; upgrade; outsource; input; overpay

– so the addition of an object, including it, doesn't sound too bad.

It appears that 'voiceover / voice-over' has been analogously verbed.

  • Ah, interesting. So the answer to my question is most likely, "It is too soon. Wait a little longer." Your other examples of compound verbs are really useful. +1.
    – MrHen
    Commented Feb 28, 2014 at 23:54
  • 1
    @MrHen Derivations like these are very slow to catch on because so many people object to them. A few like loginned / loginning have been making progress, but they're widely disparaged. They may never be accepted.
    – user28567
    Commented Mar 1, 2014 at 3:51
  • 2
    'Stopover' has made it into Collins (though not AHD) as a verb. But this is intransitive and doesn't give rise to a weird-sounding pairing with 'it'. With 'rollback it', there is the strong influence of the correct-sounding (and of course correct) (apologies to the 'of course' 'patronising'-labeller – who has been known to add it himself; I think this would sound more pedantic without it) 'roll it back' (whether transitive multi-word verb or verb + DO + adverb). Here, 'roll back it' is ungrammatical, so 'rollback it' also sounds unnatural. Commented Mar 1, 2014 at 9:29

"Rollback" is the name of the operation done when you "Roll [a file] Back" to an earlier version. (Usually this is as a part of a change management system).

It isn't a verb. It is a noun made from a verb already. There's no sense in verbifying the noun obtained from nounifying a verb. What would happen when you described that? You could repeat forever.

You either "perform a Rollback Operation or you Roll the file back and call the action Rollback.


Revert might be a suitable alternative to rollback in your example.

Please revert it.

  • I wasn't really looking for alternatives but yes, you are correct.
    – MrHen
    Commented Feb 28, 2014 at 23:54

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