I recently came across an article printed in our school magazine, which read, "I studied that a year ago". But, doesn't "I studied that a year back" sound better?

What's your say?


I would think that "a year ago" is the phrase normally used. Looking at the data reported by the Corpus of Contemporary American, I can create the following chart.

CoCa results

"Year ago" and "years ago" are the most used phrases, at least in American English.

Looking at what reported by the British National Corpus, I obtain the following data.

BNC result

"Year ago" and "years ago" are still the most used phrases, compared to "year back" and "years back".
Differently from what reported from the Corpus of Contemporary American, "year back" and "years back" are not used in academic contexts.

  • Are those two phrases the most used in British English also? – Logophile Mar 9 '11 at 18:09
  • @Log: The same difference of register (informal–neutral) applies equally to British and American. – Cerberus Mar 9 '11 at 18:24
  • I updated the answer, adding what I found looking for the same phrases in the British National Corpus. – kiamlaluno Mar 9 '11 at 18:38
  • 1
    Nice graphs. I just think that the logarithmic scale might not be completely intuitive for everyone: at first sight it seems as though "years back" and "year ago" were both pretty current in academic writing in your first graph; only when one looks closely at the logarithmic scale does one realize that "years back" is much less current. Calculating how much less requires some work. "Years back" is probably about 85% less current (I don't mean percentage points of course). – Cerberus Mar 9 '11 at 23:44
  • Without to use the logarithmic scale, showing values that vary from 2 to 1000 is rather difficult. The purpose of the charts is to show which phrases are the most used, and I think the charts perfectly show which phrases are the most used. – kiamlaluno Mar 9 '11 at 23:59

A year ago would be the regular way to say it; a year back is a colloquial way of saying the same.


"I studied that a year ago" sounds better.


It would be proper to say ago when it is time specific, otherwise, back.

  • “A few years back” is a more correct form than “a few years ago”.
  • “A hundred years ago” is a more correct form than “a hundred years back”.

protected by RegDwigнt Oct 4 '12 at 13:28

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