"we should start back" 

I've just read it in a novel, I'm wondering what's the difference between start back and return?

  • I don't think so. If one is to start back they will necessarily be returning to where they back from.
    – lux
    Commented Sep 12, 2017 at 19:21
  • 1
    Could you provide preceding and succeeding sentences ?
    – Rahul
    Commented Sep 12, 2017 at 19:23
  • More context, please. You can start back without completing the return.
    – Davo
    Commented Sep 12, 2017 at 20:06
  • 3
    Starting back is the first physical step (using 'step' figuratively if necessary) in the returning. 'We should return now' pragmatically means 'We should start our return journey' rather than 'We should be back at base within the next second', and so is interchangeable with 'We should start back now'. Commented Sep 12, 2017 at 20:53

1 Answer 1


The meanings may differ.

"Let's start back" and "Let's return" may have the exact same meaning. But I would not say "Let's start back to this museum next week" if I wanted to see more at a later time whereas I might say "Let's return to this museum next week."

"They started back to camp at noon" and "They returned to camp at noon" mean different things, in that the first indicates the beginning of a return journey and the second indicates the end of a return journey.

To sum up, the semantic fields of "return" and "start back" partially overlap, but are not identical.

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