Whether we use "come back" or "go back" usually has to do with position and perspective. The general rule is that we use "go back" when there is movement away from the speaker and "come back" when there is movement toward the speaker. However I have encountered a situation where the rule does not really work. Here is a bit of context, I am in the UK and my friend is currently abroad for a week. When I ask her "Have you done xxx yet?" She answers "I will do it when I go back". Even though my friend is abroad, I'd expect her to say "I'll do it when I come back".

Neither of us is a native speaker so I'd like to understand what form is correct and why.

Another situation that I can think of is the followong one:

I text my flatmate: "hey mate, you forgot your wallet at home"

I'd expect him to reply "Thanks, I am coming back!" even though the movement is away from the speaker (i.e. my flatmate). However, he'd definitely call his boss to say "I'll be late because I have to go back home to take my wallet that I forgot".

I am unable to explain to my friend when "come back" or "go back" should be used. Could anyone please help?


  • 3
    Possible duplicate of "I want to come there" or "I want to go there" Also Is there difference between “go with” and “come with”? Lorenzo - things (or people) come to wherever the speaker is (here). They (or the speaker) would go to any other place (there). – FumbleFingers Aug 7 '17 at 15:29
  • My friend is the speaker when she answers my question. That s why she is tempted to use "go". – Lorenzo Lamas Aug 7 '17 at 15:40
  • To me it seems that 'However I have encountered a situation where the rule does not really work.' is wrong; 'However I have encountered a situation where someone seems to be breaking this rule.' seems to be what you should have written. Expand 'come back' to 'come back to where you are' to see if it makes sense (then revise to 'come back' for reasons of style). – Edwin Ashworth Aug 7 '17 at 15:47
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    @Lorenzo: Actually, I oversimplified. We usually use come when either the speaker or addressee is currently at the intended destination of the other. But doubtless even that's a simplification for which perfectly idiomatic counterexamples can be found. – FumbleFingers Aug 7 '17 at 16:00

In that context your friend needs to use I'll do it when I get back.

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