Does "return" imply a longer absence than "be back" -- in analogy with "Batman returns (after a ten-year absence) -- in such a way that it would sound sort of awkward or weird to say of someone that he or she has just returned from a quick break to the bathroom?

In the same logic, would it sound pretty much the same sense-wise if Schwarzenegger as the Terminator uttered "I'll return" instead of his iconic line "I'll be back"?

Also, can intransitive "return" be used for things in the same manner as "be back" or "come back", in such a way that it's acceptable to say that an item has returned, or will or might return in stock, for sale, or into fashion -- or even to say that it has simply returned, period (without any specification as to the source or destination)?

1 Answer 1


In US usage, there doesn't seem to be a significant difference between I shall return and I will be back. Return sounds more formal and dramatic, be back more colloquial. Schwarzenegger's declaration is very evocative of MacArthur's promise to return to the Philippines.

Come back is similar to be back, but is more often applied to a third party. When speaking of oneself, I'll be back is more common than I'll come back. The latter seems soothing to the point of patronizing.

Finally, return is regularly used to mean come back into fashion/prominence/usage. There are numerous references to return of the miniskirt, return to civility, return of the hat and many other revivifications of once favored items or customs.

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