Toward vs. Towards

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Are the words "toward" and "towards" synonymous? If not, when should I use one over the other? "Towards" usually sounds silly to my ear, but is that just me?

Flimzy

Posted 2013-01-30T20:17:10.343

Reputation: 3 000

3If towards sounds "silly" to you, just use toward in your own speech and writing. But it would be ill-advised to tell someone else their usage sounds silly. It's just regional variation (primarily a US/UK split), but there's a certain amount of "personal taste". Myself, I use both freely, but as a Brit I probably favour towards. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2013-01-31T01:16:28.790

towards usual in australia – wim – 2013-01-31T04:17:23.143

I don't suppose there's any etymological connection, but I can't resist pointing out that *crabs move sideways* (and I never heard of *a crab moving sideway* :). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2013-05-03T22:05:01.543

7This is usually an AE vs BE difference. Actually toward sounds awkward to me. – deutschZuid – 2013-01-30T20:24:51.637

As far as I know, the choice between these two words is mostly a matter of where you live. Generally speaking, UK and US people use, respectively, towards and toward. However, I'm not a native speaker of English language; so I might be wrong. – None – 2013-01-30T20:25:50.567

Answers

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The -ward root in words like forward, backward or toward is related to the Latin vertere and versus (to turn) and goes as far back as Sanskrit (vartate).

So this root has a rich history and has appeared in various altered forms in numerous Indo-European languages.

In German we have wärts which has the s: rückwärts (backward(s)) and vorwärts (forward(s)).

Evidently, in Old English the -ward root was either -weard or -weardes. So even in ancient times, there were already two forms: one with an es and one without. The idea that Brits use -wards, whereas -ward is a modern Americanism simply does not hold water since both versions trace back to respective Old English forms.

In any case, there is no need to have any qualms about putting the s on -ward or about leaving it off.

Kaz

Posted 2013-01-30T20:17:10.343

Reputation: 6 114

3Certainly the modern usage of one form over the other can be regional, but I appreciate this short history lesson! – Flimzy – 2013-01-31T00:57:45.407

5I think that not only is it one versus the other regional, but in some dialects -wards seems to refer only to a manner of motion, where -ward is more general. You can move towards a goal (or toward), but you turn toward your friends for help. You also cannot look forwards to your vacation, only forward, but you can drive forwards and you can know something forwards and backwards. – Kaz – 2013-01-31T01:11:07.867

30

Indeed it seems that it is a British vs American difference. Note the ngrams below.

British: British novels and periodicals American: American novels and periodicals

Squazic

Posted 2013-01-30T20:17:10.343

Reputation: 2 218

1What an interesting chart! – wim – 2013-01-31T04:16:15.623

1I love the American graph's X shape :P – SingerOfTheFall – 2013-01-31T08:45:38.000

1@tchrist I hope you're joking, but sadly I'm not sure. – None – 2017-07-19T15:22:59.550

1This is pretty misleading. A survey of ten of my American friends' email over ten years shows a strong dominance of towards in these particular individuals. – tchrist – 2013-03-07T19:41:59.237

5A survey of 10 of your friends vs the massive sample size that this is taken from. – Squazic – 2013-03-09T21:57:43.047

6

I agree with @carlo_R's comment and James Jiao's answer. However, towards isn't just limited to British English. For example, I grew up in the southern United States (Florida and Alabama to be exact) and say towards (my whole family does as well). Now, I live on the West coast United States and they generally say toward.

GorrillaMcD

Posted 2013-01-30T20:17:10.343

Reputation: 160

That's true, hence the word chiefly :P. – deutschZuid – 2013-01-30T22:06:31.387

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This is usually an American vs British English difference. Toward is chiefly American and towards is chiefly used in BE and most commonwealth countries. The former is foreign to my ears but obviously understood due to the proliferation of American media.

deutschZuid

Posted 2013-01-30T20:17:10.343

Reputation: 452

3Disagree. Towards is also American. – tchrist – 2013-03-07T19:42:14.510

@tchrist Might want to look up the word 'chiefly'. – deutschZuid – 2013-03-07T20:37:34.993