Taken Back or Taken Aback – Which One to Use?

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

Isn’t language fascinating? No matter where you’re from, there’s always a complex system of communication by means of idioms and expressions. But no language is exempt from confusion between similar phrases. In English, I’ve seen “taken back” and “taken aback” mixed up more times than I can count. So, let’s dig to the bottom of it and see what the difference is.

What Does Taken Aback Mean?

Taken Back or Taken Aback Which One to Use

“Taken aback” is a long-standing idiom meaning to be surprised or shocked and usually caught off guard by something. We use the phrase when someone is suddenly confronted with a surprising piece of information or an unexpected event happens, causing them to lose their composure for a moment.

I’ve got a perfect example that happened to me just last week. My daughter joined Kubs because she’d said a lot of kids in her class were in it. I thought, why not? She’ll have fun.

So, I brought her to her first meeting and was surprised that she was the only girl out of nearly thirty kids! She hadn’t mentioned it was mostly boys, nor did she care. But I was expecting at least a few of her girlfriends to be there. So, I was pleasantly surprised and also slightly taken aback.

Is It Taken Back or Taken Aback?

I know most people think they’re the same phrase; just one is an older way of saying it. But that’s actually incorrect.

Aback is an adverb, so “taken aback” is what you’d say when you’re caught off-guard or suddenly surprised by something you weren’t expecting.

But “taken back” means recalling a memory or feeling some sort of nostalgia. Here are some examples to illustrate the difference.

  • After ten long years, I was taken aback by how much my cousin had changed.
  • At my high school reunion, I was taken back to a time when life was much easier.

Taken Aback Etymology

The simple phrase “taken aback” has its roots in nautical terminology and dates back to the 1700s. In the days of sailing ships, when a vessel’s sails were suddenly filled by the wind from the opposite direction, sailors said it was “taken aback.”

This usually caused the ship to suddenly stop or be pushed backward, catching the crew off guard. Over the years, the phrase was used in other contexts and eventually evolved to describe being suddenly surprised by something.

What Are Some Synonyms for Taken Back?

  • Reminiscent
  • Nostalgic
  • Wistful
  • Longing
  • Yearning

Synonyms for Taken Aback

  • Surprised
  • Caught off-guard
  • Stunned
  • Speechless

How Do You Use “Taken Back” in a Sentence?

Taken Back or Taken Aback Which One to Use 1
  • I was taken back to my childhood as I inhaled the familiar scent of my grandmother’s cookies baking in the oven.
  • Hearing our old high school chant really took me back to those carefree days of weekend parties and cotton candy perfume.
  • My mom was taken back by the photo album I found in storage that captured the beautiful memories of her youth.

Sentence Examples With “Taken Aback”

  • I was taken aback when I was told I’d won the lottery, and I broke down and cried tears of joy.
  • My sister was totally taken aback by the surprise party we threw for her birthday.
  • The detective was taken aback by the crime scene because he recognized one of the victims. 
  • The sudden announcement of the major book retailer’s closure left the employees, and the patrons, taken aback.

Are You Surprised?

Now, after reading my quick guide and seeing these two phrases in sentences, you shouldn’t ever get them mixed up again. The way I remember the difference is by thinking of “taken back” as just back, as in the past. Hope that helps!