[ bak-uhn-fawrth, -fohrth, -uhnd- ]
/ ˈbæk ənˈfɔrθ, -ˈfoʊrθ, -ənd- /
Save This Word!

backward and forward; side to side; to and fro: a back-and-forth shuttling of buses to the stadium; the back-and-forth movement of a clock's pendulum.
unresolved argument or discussion.
Do you have the grammar chops to know when to use “have” or “has”? Let’s find out with this quiz!
Question 1 of 7
My grandmother ________ a wall full of antique cuckoo clocks.
Meet Grammar CoachWrite or paste your essay, email, or story into Grammar Coach and get grammar helpImprove Your Writing
Meet Grammar CoachImprove Your Writing
Write or paste your essay, email, or story into Grammar Coach and get grammar help

Origin of back-and-forth

First recorded in 1605–15
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022


What does back-and-forth mean?

Back-and-forth is a noun that means an argument or discussion in which little gets resolved.

Back-and-forth is also used to describe something having a movement pattern in which it repeatedly moves somewhere and returns to where it started.

A back-and-forth is a discussion where two or more people are failing to reach a compromise or a solution, as in I had a very long back-and-forth with my girlfriend about what to do with my dog.

A back-and-forth is a much less productive version of a give-and-take, where people more easily reach a compromise.

As an adjective, back-and-forth describes a movement from one point to another and then back to the original point, as in The audience stared at the back-and-forth movements of the hypnotist’s watch. Such a movement might be forward and backward and forward again or from one side to another and back to the first side.

Example: The budget discussion became an intense back-and-forth where neither side wanted to concede anything.

Where does back-and-forth come from?

The first records of back-and-forth come from around 1605. It is composed of the words back, meaning “toward the rear (backward)”, and forth, meaning “toward the front (forward).”

If something literally moves backward and then forward, it is back where it started. It makes no progress. The figurative noun sense likely alludes to this idea of a lack of progress.

Did you know ... ?

What are some synonyms for back-and-forth?

What are some words that share a root or word element with back-and-forth

What are some words that often get used in discussing back-and-forth?

How is back-and-forth used in real life?

Back-and-forth is most often used to refer to an unresolved argument or something that moves backward and forward.

Try using back-and-forth!

True or False?

A back-and-forth is an argument that goes unresolved or fails to lead to a compromise.

How to use back-and-forth in a sentence

Other Idioms and Phrases with back-and-forth

back and forth

Also, backward(s) and forward(s). To and fro, moving in one direction and then the opposite and so making no progress in either. For example, The clock pendulum swung back and forth. The term is also used figuratively, as in The lawyers argued the point backwards and forwards for an entire week. [c. 1600]

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.