'Revert' Should Not Be Used to Mean 'Reply'

Published: 03rd March 2014 06:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 02nd March 2014 06:06 PM   |  A+A-

In the last two columns I discussed the appropriate titles to be used in salutation and the cliché to be avoided in professional letters. A reader from Chennai has sent in this query:  “I am a regular reader of your column in Edex. I have received a mail from one of my teammates who says that the verb ‘revert’ should not be used to mean ‘reply’. Please clarify.”

I have heard many Indians use the word ‘revert’ or ‘revert back’ to mean ‘reply’. About a year ago, an American friend of mine showed me a business letter in which she found the term ‘revert’ used in the context and said that it sounded strange to her. I too have come across the following sentences in many formal letters I have received from Indian friends. 

• Please revert to me soon with all the details.

• I’ll revert back to you within two days.

• Please revert to us with your updated CV.

• He hasn’t yet reverted to our letter.

It is typical Indian English.   The word ‘revert’ should not be used instead of ‘reply’ as in the examples above. According to Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, the phrasal verb ‘revert to something’ means ‘to return to doing, using, being or referring to something, usually something bad or less satisfactory’. Look at these examples:

• Why do you always revert to your promotion and increment?

• I don’t like the teacher as he reverts to our poor performance in the examinations every time we meet him.

The phrasal verb ‘revert to somebody’ means ‘to become the property of someone’ as in the examples below:

• After John’s father’s death, the house reverted to John and the hotel reverted to Mary.

• He thinks all his father’s property will be reverted to him.

What is the difference between ‘revert’ and ‘revert back’? The usage of ‘back’ along with ‘revert’ is redundant, but as you can see, from authentic examples from British National Corpus (listed below), both ‘revert’ and ‘revert back’ are widely used by native speakers of British English. .

• The time taken to revert to the relaxed state is directly related to the fitness of the body.

• Anti-Candida therapy is not a life-long cure — the problem can come back if you revert to your old eating habit.

• First, the pressures on teachers involved in innovation to revert back in traditional content and methods are strong.

• His skin now looks reasonably healthy, but I would like to know if there is any chance that the pink pigment will revert back to its former black colour.

However, it is preferable to use ‘revert’ and not ‘revert back’.

Another example of typical Indian English is the idiom ‘every nook and corner’, which would sound strange to native speakers of English. The correct idiom is ‘every nook and cranny’. Look at these examples:

• The full survey will ensure every nook and cranny is inspected.

• Scores of supply vessels, tugs and survey ships filled every nook and cranny and even spilled over into the fish docks.

“Fill your house with stacks of books, in all the crannies and all the nooks.” – Dr Seuss



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