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[an-ser, ahn-] /ˈæn sər, ˈɑn-/
a spoken or written reply or response to a question, request, letter, etc.:
He sent an answer to my letter promptly.
a correct response to a question asked to test one's knowledge.
an equivalent or approximation:
a singing group that tried to be the French answer to the Beatles.
an action serving as a reply or response:
The answer was a volley of fire.
a solution to a problem, especially in mathematics.
a reply to a charge or accusation.
Law. a pleading in which a party responds to his or her opponent's statement of position, especially the defendant's reply to the plaintiff's complaint.
Music. the entrance of a fugue subject, usually on the dominant, either slightly altered or transposed exactly after each presentation in the tonic.
verb (used without object)
to speak or write in response; make answer; reply.
to respond by an act or motion:
He answered with a nod. The champion answered with a right to the jaw.
to act or suffer in consequence of (usually followed by for).
to be or declare oneself responsible or accountable (usually followed by for):
I will answer for his safety.
to be satisfactory or serve (usually followed by for):
His cane answered for a baseball bat.
to conform; correspond (usually followed by to):
The prisoner answered to the description issued by the police.
verb (used with object)
to speak or write in response to; reply to:
to answer a person; to answer a question.
to act or move in response to:
Answer the doorbell. We answered their goal with two quick goals of our own.
to solve or present a solution of.
to serve or fulfill:
This will answer the purpose.
to discharge (a responsibility, claim, debt, etc.).
to conform or correspond to; be similar or equivalent to:
This dog answers your description.
to atone for; make amends for.
to reply or respond favorably to:
I would like to answer your request but am unable to do so.
Verb phrases
answer back, to reply impertinently or rudely:
Well-behaved children do not answer back when scolded.
answer the helm, Nautical. (of a vessel) to maneuver or remain steady according to the position of the rudder.
Origin of answer
before 900; Middle English andswerien, Old English andswerian, andswarian derivative of andswaru an answer, equivalent to and- opposite, facing (cf. and, along) + Germanic *swarō, derivative of swear
Related forms
answerer, noun
answerless, adjective
unanswered, adjective
unanswering, adjective
well-answered, adjective
1. riposte. Answer, rejoinder, reply, response, retort all mean words used to meet a question, remark, charge, etc. An answer is a return remark: an answer giving the desired information. A rejoinder is a quick, usually clever answer or remark made in reply to another's comment, not to a question. Reply usually refers to a direct or point-by-point response to a suggestion, proposal, question, or the like: a reply to a letter. A response often suggests an answer to an appeal, exhortation, etc., or an expected or fixed reply: a response to inquiry; a response in a church service. A retort implies a keen, prompt answer, especially one that turns a remark upon the person who made it: a sharp retort. 6. defense, plea. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for answer back
Historical Examples
  • Mrs. Spencer shot a quick glance at him—but he gave no answer back.

  • He rattled his sword in its brazen scabbard, but it gave no answer back to him.

    Irish Fairy Tales Edmond Leamy
  • The outer world provokes simple creatures to answer back; simple creatures act experimentally on their surroundings.

  • It was impossible not to answer back to that earnest affection he was expressing.

  • It is a fact that Miss Fancy would have given the emerald ring off her left first-finger to be able to answer back.

    Mr. Prohack E. Arnold Bennett
  • Demoteles, who brings you this letter, will bring your answer back to us.

    The Antiquities of the Jews Flavius Josephus
  • He could never hope again to touch that hair, or answer back the smile on that beloved and happy face.

    A Life For a Love L. T. Meade
  • But if she could not answer back in public, at least she could answer back in private.

    The Love Affairs of Lord Byron Francis Henry Gribble
  • I came to a resolution to answer it, and to send that answer back by the pilot.

    Miles Wallingford James Fenimore Cooper
  • They could "josh" me all they wanted to, but I hadn't the energy to answer back.

    In Pastures Green Peter McArthur
British Dictionary definitions for answer back

answer back

(adverb) to reply rudely to (a person, esp someone in authority) when one is expected to remain silent


a reply, either spoken or written, as to a question, request, letter, or article
a reaction or response in the form of an action: drunkenness was his answer to disappointment
a solution, esp of a mathematical problem
  1. a party's written reply to his opponent's interrogatories
  2. (in divorce law) the respondent's written reply to the petition
a musical phrase that follows the subject of a fugue, reproducing it a fifth higher or a fourth lower
(when transitive, may take a clause as object) to reply or respond (to) by word or act: to answer a question, he answered, to answer the door, he answered that he would come
(transitive) to reply correctly to; solve or attempt to solve: I could answer only three questions
(intransitive) usually foll by to. to respond or react (to a stimulus, command, etc): the steering answers to the slightest touch
(transitive) to pay off (a debt, obligation, etc); discharge
when intr, often foll by for. to meet the requirements (of); be satisfactory (for); serve the purpose (of): this will answer his needs, this will answer for a chisel
when intr, often foll by to. to match or correspond (esp in the phrase answer (or answer to) the description)
(transitive) to give a defence or refutation of (a charge) or in (an argument)
Word Origin
Old English andswaru an answer; related to Old Frisian ondser, Old Norse andsvar; see swear
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for answer back



Old English andswaru "an answer, a reply," from and- "against" (see ante) + -swaru "affirmation," from swerian "to swear" (see swear), suggesting an original sense of "make a sworn statement rebutting a charge." A common Germanic compound (cf. Old Saxon antswor, Old Norse andsvar, Old Frisian ondser, Danish and Swedish ansvar), implying a Proto-Germanic *andswara-. Meaning "a reply to a question," the main modern sense, was present in Old English. Meaning "solution of a problem" is from c.1300.


Old English answarian "to answer;" see answer (n.). Meaning "to respond in antiphony" is from early 15c.; that of "to be responsible for" is early 13c. Related: Answered; answering. The telephone answering machine is from 1961.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Idioms and Phrases with answer back

answer back

see: talk back
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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