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A little while ago I was in a shop, and about 5 minutes after I left, they phoned me to tell me I had left my USB stick there. I said I would head back and pick it up.

I used 戻って行く to mean "I'll go back", but I wonder if 戻ってくる would have been better, as in "I'll come back".

Japanese has always tripped me up a bit in terms of which point of view one refers to when describing direction. Am I coming to where they are, or going from where I am? Or are both okay?

Now that I think about it, English can be flexible on this as well, so perhaps there aren't strict rules. Maybe I'm over thinking it...?

In any case, does anyone have any pointers which can help determine when one comes to where the other person is, or when one goes from where the speaker is?

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4 Answers

Neither seems really appropriate to me. In that case the best thing to say might be 戻ります modorimasu.

You can never really say 戻って行く modotteiku about yourself. You can say 彼は戻って行く when somebody else is leaving to return to where he came from. You can say 戻ってくる modottekuru when you're going somewhere but are going to return here (e.g. 「戻ってくるね、待ってて」). 戻る modoru already has the meaning of "going there" and doesn't need an 行く or くる for other cases.

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Was just about to post the exact same answer. I definitely agree that Answer C: 戻る is best for this situation. –  Derek Schaab Jun 15 '11 at 13:42
btw in your answer there's this 待ってて, i'd thought i've heard it quite alot, but what does the last て refers to? –  Pacerier Jun 16 '11 at 16:06
@Pacerier I thought I'd seen a question about this here already… Not sure how exactly to put it in linguistic terms, but it softens the impact of the て command form. More along the lines of "Wait if you will" instead of "Wait!". If you can't find the existing question, should be worth to open a new one for it. –  deceze Jun 16 '11 at 23:03
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up vote 3 down vote accepted

I'm not really answering my own question as much as I am relaying what I believe is the correct answer after polling a few Japanese people on this.

Also, both answers provided already had a bit of truth in them, so I didn't want to choose between them.

A simple 「戻ります/戻る」 is definitely preferable and more common than 「戻ってくる」.

However, 「戻ってきます」 isn't wrong, and there are some people who would use it.(「言う人もいるよ」 was what I was told.)

「戻って行く」 is definitely wrong.

However all of those get trumped by:

取りに帰る ("tori ni kaeru", "[I'll] return to pick [my USB thingy] up")

That would have been the absolute smoothest thing to say.

That kind of dodges the issue that I was really trying to get at, though, which was to try and pry open a little insight into the perspective of coming and going, which I know I've stumbled on before. However, this is clearly not a great example of that, though, so I'll have to keep my eye out for a better case study.

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Did you get the 帰る answer from a native speaker? It sounds odd to use 帰る in the context of returning to a shop, especially considering the answer to this question. –  Derek Schaab Jun 16 '11 at 18:10
@Derek: No, I asked a large group of Swedish intermediaries, because I figured it was best to work through a neutral third language so as to get an unbiased opinion. Just kidding. ;) Yes, of course, I asked native speakers. I don't think 帰る strictly means return home, it can be to return to the place understood by context. Or, it might be that I'm slightly messing things up because it was a couple hours between when I talked to people and when I wrote here. Perhaps they meant 返る or something like that? –  Dave M G Jun 17 '11 at 4:22
返る has a slightly different meaning. I can see how 帰る can be understood as a generic "return", but (anecdotally) I've only heard it used when returning to a place one "belongs". Now supposing for this example you had left home, but got a call from your family saying you forgot to take your wallet, 取りに帰る sounds perfectly fine. It's just that in the context of returning to a store where you had only spent a short amount of time, 戻る feels much more appropriate (to me, anyway). –  Derek Schaab Jun 17 '11 at 12:22
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戻ってくる is the one to choose.

Basically, when opponent is in same place where you're going to, you may need to use 来る.

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+1 this is correct. It gives the idea that's you're going back now or at least soon, while 戻ります (although acceptable) is uncertain about time and quite vague. People from the shop also probably told him "戻って来ました" when he arrived –  repecmps Jun 15 '11 at 13:53
First, @repecmps: Please provide a reference for why 戻ってくる means you'll return in the near future, but 戻る is "uncertain about time and quite vague." Second, @YOU: The curveball in this question is that the two people in the conversation are separated by distance. Before you head back to the shop, you can say 戻ってくる to someone you're with (e.g. if you want them to wait for you, like in deceze's answer), but it makes no sense to say this to the the people at the shop. The shop just wants you to 戻る. (Once you get there, they can say 戻ってきた, because that fits their perspective.) –  Derek Schaab Jun 15 '11 at 19:08
@Derek: Why would I provide a reference when you and deceze don't provide any? ;) I guess we'll just wait for a native to confirm. –  repecmps Jun 16 '11 at 2:55
@repecmps: 1 (Google Books) and 2 (PDF). Any grammar text worth its salt says nothing about ~てくる adding immediacy. I could say 行ってきます and mean I'm coming back in an hour or a year. You'd have to add another word like すぐ to convey immediacy. I'm surprised I have to provide references to back up something that's universally understood. Usually the burden of proof is on the one making the controversial claim. –  Derek Schaab Jun 16 '11 at 13:07
sorry, 行ってきます means I'm going now. (来る)is an auxiliary verb. So you come back in a million years (or die on the way for what I care), the fact is you're going NOW. For 戻ってくる you're doing the action of turning back NOW. Your source is nice. Where do you see an explanation for 戻ります? The ます form of a verb can mean anything, future, present (near or far). Anything. It's understandable but without すぐ it just doesn't work. 戻ってくる means I'll be back. with or without すぐ it will be sooner than 戻ります. The requirements for hiring 外人 in Japan is very low nowadays I'll take a lesson from you another time –  repecmps Jun 16 '11 at 13:22
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I know that this thread is a bit old now, but I couldn't help responding.

No one answered with 取りに伺います(とりにうかがいます) which is what i understand to be the most polite and well understood.

取りに行きます and 取りに戻ります also fit the bill but my research does not agree with the previous answers stating 取りに戻ってくる・いく・帰るare the best answers or even that they feel natural but the meaning should still be understood.

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I find nothing wrong grammatically with 取りに伺います, but it should be noted that 伺う is a humble form of "visit" or "call on", and so in this particular context (a customer returning to a store), 伺う is actually contextually inappropriate. Were the context changed, however, it may be the best answer. For example, if you were picking up documents from a client of your company (and therefore required to use humble speech), 取りに伺います would be preferable to the other answers here. –  Derek Schaab Jul 22 '11 at 12:50
@Derek Yes we need to be mindful of those situations but we are inconveniencing the people with our mistake. So, I think it would best to use the speech to accompany our feeling. They did after all call Dave on the phone to come get his forgotten item. –  Gerard Sexton Jul 25 '11 at 12:00
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