Back Then or Back When – Which Is Correct?

So, you want to understand the difference between “back then” and “back when,” but you’re not sure where to start with it.

Luckily, we’re here to help. This article will explain all you need to know about the two phrases.

Back Then or Back When – Which Is Correct?

“Back then” refers to a previous time when something significant happened. It refers to a single period. For example, “the king ruled back then.” “Back when” refers to when something was different from how it is today. For example, “do you remember back when this wasn’t normal?”


  • You can use “back then” to refer to a single time and explain what you remember about it.
  • “Back when” refers to a time when things were different from how they are today.
  • “Back there” is a geographical phrase used to point out the direction of something.

Here are some other examples that might help clear things up:

  • I remember how things were way back then. I wish they were still like that now.
  • Way back when times were rough, we had to make do. Times are much less rough now, so things have gotten easier.

Keep reading to learn more about the differences between “back then” and “back when.” We’ve also explored whether “back there” has a place in your writing.

Back Then

“Back then” is a great way to refer to a past event. It shows you remember something from the past. Usually, you will talk about a significant event.

Here are a few examples to help you with it:

  • There’s a lot that I don’t want to think about from back then. It’s difficult for me to get over it.
  • You should consider the times back then. They were completely different from how they are today.

You should only use “back then” when referring to a single period in the past. You do not use it to compare multiple times (i.e., the past and present).

Back When

“Back when” allows you to compare two times. Usually, you can compare the past with the present. It shows people how things might differ in the past compared to now.

Here are some great examples to help you understand it:

  • Back when we last had a king, things were much stricter. Now, it seems that things have gotten easier.
  • Oh, she’s talking about back when the last great war started. Times have certainly become easier to live through now.

You can use “back when” to refer to a significant time in history. It might also refer to a time earlier in your life, as long as there’s a large enough difference compared to how things are today.

Back There

“Back there” is not related to time. Instead, it relates to a place. You should use it to direct someone and let them know that something is in the opposite direction or “over there.”

Check out the following examples to see how to use it:

  • You’ll have to go back there yourself. I’m not going back because I didn’t like what I saw.
  • It’s all the way back there. You should be able to see it when you cross the street.

You should only use “back there” for geographical locations, though. It does not work for time-based contexts like “back then” and “back when” do.

For example:

  • Correct: You can go back there if you want to.
  • Incorrect: We are talking about the time back there when everything was easy.

Instead of “there,” you should use “then.” That way, it’s clear you refer to a time rather than a place.


You can use “back then” and “back when” in similar ways. Both refer to times in the past when something significant took place.

“Back then” refers to a single time. “Back when” typically refers to two times, allowing you to compare how things have changed.

You can use “back there,” but only when referring to locations rather than times.