Definition of aback in English:



  • 1archaic Towards or situated to the rear; back:

    ‘the little strip of pasture aback of the house’
    • ‘Now he could look right through the tiny window over the roof, on to the tree-tops aback of the house.’
    • ‘The two started down the dusty road and John was quick to follow, but his father's words pulled him aback.’
  • 2Sailing
    With the sail pressed backwards against the mast by a headwind:

    ‘Peter holds the jib aback until our bow swings across the wind’
    • ‘Once the boat has tacked the jib will be aback.’
    • ‘Peter holds the jib aback until our bow swings across the wind.’
    • ‘The wind came now from this side, now from that, determined to catch the sails aback.’
    • ‘When a sloop is hove to she is stopped in the water by her foresail being sheeted aback, on the windward side.’


  • take someone aback

    • Shock or surprise someone:

      ‘he was taken aback by her directness’
      • ‘I was a little taken aback by her use of the familiar term but I recovered quickly.’
      • ‘But it was the theatrical brutality of the piece that took me aback.’
      • ‘I was taken aback by that and answered with a question that has been bugging me.’
      • ‘I was taken aback by his sudden mood change and shifted in the leather seat uncomfortably.’
      • ‘He was so taken aback by the incident that he notified the local press in Donegal about it.’
      • ‘The consul was present at the Supreme Court hearing, and I think she was taken aback and shocked by what she heard.’
      • ‘People in England are aware of the divide, but the extent of it took me aback.’
      • ‘Everyone at our table was taken aback at his rudeness toward a paying customer.’
      • ‘She was taken aback when he smiled and bowed his head to her.’
      • ‘When you go to such a place, you are taken aback by the youthfulness of the crowd.’
      surprise, shock, stun, stagger, astound, astonish, startle, take by surprise
      dumbfound, daze, nonplus, stop someone in their tracks, stupefy, take someone's breath away
      jolt, throw, unnerve, disconcert, disturb, disquiet, unsettle, discompose, bewilder
      flabbergast, knock for six, knock sideways, knock out, floor, strike dumb
      View synonyms


Old English on bæc (see a-, back). The term came to be treated as a single word in nautical use.