Look back at /to someone


Senior Member
I would like to know which is the correct preposition after look back : at or to someone?

e.g. He was looking back at/to her.

My English teacher told that with 'at' the focus is on the person and with 'to' the focus is the place where that person is, but I didn't quite get it. Is there really a difference? I thought that only with 'at' could work.
  • baldpate

    Senior Member
    UK, English
    I thought that only with 'at' could work.
    I think you are correct, where we are specifically talking about the physical action of looking behind oneself at a person.
    "I looked back at her one last time, before boarding the train and leaving forever."
    "I looked back at the person who had called my name, but it was nobody I knew."

    I don't really understand your teacher's comment about "'to' placing the focus is the place where that person is". There are certainly some where "to" is correct with "look", but none (that I can think of) both where the adverb "back" is used and where the (indirect) object is a person.
    For example, these are correct:
    "I'm sure I can look to John for help in an emergency." [not "look back", figurative use of "look"]
    "You should look to your own interests before worrying about other people." [not "look back", object not a person, figurative use of "look"]
    "I often look back to that happy time with nostalgia." [object is "happy time", not a person]

    The Prof

    Senior Member
    As well as in sentences such as "I looked to John for a response", I would also use "to" if actually stating where the person was: "I looked back to where John stood on the bridge". However, without the "where" in that sentence, I would probably revert back to using "at" - although the more I think about it, the less certain I become!


    Senior Member
    English - England
    "My donkey is 20 years old." said the old man.
    He looked back at the donkey that was following them and then looked back to the old man who was smiling toothlessly.

    At is the usual preposition but to can be used when you then look at something else - it is as if you were looking towards something/someone.
    Hello, alltheway

    The only one situation I can think of is :

    (They had quarreled for a long time)
    They started to walk away from each other, and in a little while, the boy spoke out some words into the air in a loud voice, then looked back in the direction where she had been going, expecting her to turn around to him crying (in joy).
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