back when

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ticcota

Senior Member
Japanese
Hi,

"I swear to god my mom and sister think everything is racist and that everyone in the world is out to get black people. Where they got this irrational fear, I don't know. They can't be grateful for how far we've gotten. Especially my mom, seeing how separated everyone was back when she was in high school, like 30 years ago. Grrr."

Is "back when" a set phrase? I feel it's the same meaning when "back" is dropped, am I correct? Is "back" here only to polish the sentence?

Thank you.
 
  • Copyright

    Senior Member
    American English
    We use "back when" when we're talking about a time in the fairly distant past. The "back" emphasis the time difference between then and now.
     

    ticcota

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    Thank you, Copyright. :)

    If I rephrase the sentence as: "They can't be grateful for how far we've gotten. Especially my mom, seeing how separated everyone was back in her high school, like 30 years ago. Grrr.." is it idiomatic?

    Thank you.
     

    Copyright

    Senior Member
    American English
    It's possible to use it, I suppose, but "back when" is much better and more idiomatic: Why, I remember back when I was a boy, we had to walk five miles to school ... through snowdrifts ... and that was nursery school!

    We also use "back then": Things were tougher back then. Today's kids go to school in their own SUVs.
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    Thank you, Copyright. :)

    If I rephrase the sentence as: "They can't be grateful for how far we've gotten. Especially my mom, seeing how separated everyone was back in her high school, like 30 years ago. Grrr.." is it idiomatic?

    Thank you.
    "In her high school" is a place, but "back in her high school days" or "back in high school" (if "Mom" is speaking) would be idiomatic.
     
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