Toward vs. Towards

What is the Difference Between "Toward" and "Towards"?

I was recently sent an email asking about the difference between "toward" and "towards." According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, and most usage experts, both terms are acceptable - neither is more or less formal than the other.

The only distinction between the two is that "towards" is typically used in British English while "toward" is more typically used in American English.


"Toward" vs. "Towards": The Numbers

If you do a Google ngram search, you can chart the usage of "toward" vs. "towards" in American English between 1800 and 2008. As you can see the use of "toward" far outnumbers that of "towards." By contrast, if you do a ngram search for the usage of "toward" vs. "towards" in British English during the same time period, you'll find the opposite, that the use of "towards" far exceeds that of "toward."

British or American?

So, the only factor you need to consider is the context: are you writing for a primarily British or Australian audience? Then use "towards." If you're writing for an American or Canadian audience, then use "toward."

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Any thoughts, clarifications or questions? 76 comments

Googled 4 years ago

toward:

Old English toweard "in the direction of," prepositional use of toweard (adj.) "coming, approaching," from to (see to) + -weard, from P.Gmc. *-warth, from PIE *wert "turn" (see -ward). Towards with adverbial genitive ending, was in Old English as toweards.

From the Online Etymology Dictionary (www.etymonline.com)


edward 4 years ago

From the given explanation by all, it makes more confusing what to believe and what is not. But, it is helpful for someone like me who are really bombarded with many questions about the correct usage of this and that...


mark thorin 4 years ago

How many comments !

Nobody seems to understand that "towards, downwards, upwards" implies a further continuous movement from me [when walking, I was aiming towards ...], whilst without "s", it means that I was still [I stopped, wondering where to go forward]. It is implicit, but not clearly expressed, in a number of comments, and has nothing to do with GB vs USA.


Ethan Bradford 4 years ago

Correction to the previous comment (the de-HTML filter got rid of some text). Instead of

They don't support "toward " vs "towards ".

read

They don't support "toward a person" vs "towards an object."


Ethan Bradford 4 years ago

I did some "corpus linguistics" here, on the cheap with Google searches. They support "towards" being more common than "toward" generally, with a much stronger preference in the UK, as predicted.

They also support "toward" for an abstract goal ("toward freedom" wins). They don't support "toward " vs "towards ". They do support "toward town" but "towards the edge of town".

"toward" 382,000,000

"towards" 622,000,000

"toward" site:us 44,300,000

"towards" site:us 20,900,000

"toward" site:uk 21,600,000

"towards" site:uk 106,000,000

"toward" site:ca 30,800,000

"towards" site:ca 57,200,000

"toward" site:au 15,900,000

"towards" site:au 52,100,000

"toward" site:in 15,300,000

"towards" site:in 36,200,000

"toward a common goal" 1,950,000

"toward a common goal" site:us 36,000

"toward a common goal" site:uk 41,100

"towards a common goal" 2,100,000

"towards a common goal" site:uk 157,000

"towards a common goal" site:us 20,000

"toward home" 845,000

"towards home" 934,000

"toward freedom" 529,000

"towards freedom" 479,000

"toward town" 315,000

"towards town" 304,000

"toward the edge of town" 55,900

"towards the edge of town" 73,600

"toward john" 116,000

"towards john" 167,000

"toward a tree" 202,000

"towards a tree" 460,000


5 years ago

I'm American, grew up in Wisconsin no less, university educated and work as a writer and teacher, and I ALWAYS use towards and never thought anything of it until a new word processor starting correcting it to "toward". So all this British/American stuff seems totally bogus to me.


Shelly 5 years ago

To catherine bowen,

You said "Toward is used when referring to something" but your example was "I am heading TOWARDS the tree" and also "towards is used when referring to someone" you wrote "I am going TOWARD my aunt over there."

Did you get the two mixed up?


DareM 5 years ago

Hey there everyone, got this from a linguist.

In U.S. English, toward is the usual form but in British English towards is more common. The same principle applies to afterward/afterwards and to some other adverbs of direction that end in -ward, for example, backward/backwards and outward/outwards. Upward, as in moved upward, and upwards, as in increases upwards of 10 percent, are also standard. Note that related adjectives of direction always end in -ward, not -wards, as in a backward glance or an upward trend. The adverb forwards is a seldom used variant of forward in U.S. English, and the -wards spelling of it is never used as a standard U.S. English adjective.


catherine bowen 5 years ago

Toward is used when referring to something, and towards is used when referring to someone, e.g. I am heading towards the tree, and I am going toward my aunt over there.


tinaweha profile image

tinaweha 5 years ago from Seattle (and the world)

PS I think that computerization / computerisation and MS Word spellcheck have butchered the English language. And, I should be allowed to write the word colour any way I wish.


tinaweha profile image

tinaweha 5 years ago from Seattle (and the world)

AP style be damned. The COLONIES are wrong. There are times when using towards sounds better. I also use a bit of Canadian/British spelling because I learned to read and write in Washington State. Vancouver and Seattle are almost in the same state/province.


Katty 5 years ago

Thank you. I love this. It's great. Yay. Happiness for everyone. Woop woop! Hooray! yay. Okay. Bye now.

KatPr


Steve 5 years ago

Robin:

Thanks for the help here.

Nice page!

Sincerely,

Steve


Kipping 5 years ago

Ugh. What a joke.

Tom Shelly 3 months ago

Strunk and White - The Element of Style. READ IT. No such word as towards. Use toward every time.

Strange, maybe that's because you're quoting a book which was written BY an american, FOR americans. NO SHIT HE DOESN'T THINK THERE'S A TOWARDS, HE'S ALREADY ONE OF THE RETARDED AMERICAN MAJORITY. I mean HONESTLY: the level of arrogance from America is just insane. Mum --> Mom. Confused --> Confuzed. Right --> Wrong. Both toward and towards have their place in the English language (strange how it's called the ENGLISH language when Americans are obviously so much better at speaking it? - please pick up on the sarcasm.)

Being a young-'un I still don't quite understand WHY america thinks it runs the world [half of the country is owed in debt to China, 90% of the country's wealth is tied up with less than 1% of the population, money money money money money] - eep. Digressing. Apologies. America is that kid at school who earned a scholarship in first year; but by 5th year was despised and shunned despite convincing himself he owned the entire school. I read an article a while back about how the word 'Diarize' came into existence. This shit is ridiculous. The fact that it's even a word is just mind-boggling. *To write in a diary? Hmm. Surely you can't just call it WRITING IN A FUCKING DIARY; no no! We shall have to make up a verb for it; yes yes!* Whoever that kid was deserves a bullet in the head. Anyway.

Toward vs towards.

See: Lots vs Many. BOTH ARE CORRECT IN THE RIGHT CIRCUMSTANCES. YOU CANNOT USE ONE EXCLUSIVELY OR YOU WILL LOOK LIKE A RETARD HALF THE TIME.


Bert 5 years ago

But then, their next example runs counter. :-\

"Efforts toward peace have been largely unsuccessful."


Bert 5 years ago

@Alex

Merriam-Webster seems to distinguish the use of the -s for the preposition based on the number of the subject. Singular has no s; Plural has an s.

E.g., (from M-W.com)

1. The bus is heading toward town.

2. She took a step toward the door.

3. They live out towards the edge of town.

4. We're thinking of taking a vacation towards the end of the month.


Jacky 5 years ago

I am American and have always used "towards" rather than "toward." I did attend a British school whilst living in Portugal during my early adolescence, so perhaps that is why I tend to prefer it? I'm not sure why; however, it is nice to know they are both correct!


Anna Kogan 5 years ago

Thanks!!!!! I appreciated that a lot. Very helpful.


Alex 5 years ago

I checked out the entry on Merriam Webster's site (linked above) and, if you read the descriptions for both toward, adjective, and toward, preposition, you will see that "toward (adjective)" does say "Also: towards," as Robin mentioned in this initial post.

There is no mention, however, of "towards" on M-W's page under "toward (preposition)."

So, it is my understanding that, when using "toward" as an adjective, both "toward" and "towards" are acceptable. When using "toward" as a preposition, though, "towards" is improper; "toward" should be used, exclusively.

In sum: "toward" is always a safe bet ;)


Carol Jean Thomason 5 years ago

Both are considered correct, however, sentences will sound better if "toward" and "towards", prepositions, are treated like verbs. ("S" on the verb takes a singular subject.) Therefore, you would say "Your donation will go towards the local cancer fund," or "Your donations will go toward the local cancer fund."


John Whiting profile image

John Whiting 5 years ago from London

In poetry, the choice should be aesthetic; i.e., which usage sounds the best.


Yunis 6 years ago

The quote didn't go through - reposting:

With respect to any word ending in ...ward, my take has always been this: I think of the possible origin of the word, as it potentially relates to combat. "Warding" - effectively meaning "guarding" - could be the base for these words, with each of their prefixes indicating a different defensive direction: e.g., "forward" meaning "guard the front" (or push to the front to guard), with the remaining prefixes having similar meaning, ultimately leading us to use the words without the trailing "s".


Yunis 6 years ago

While I too had hesitated about using toward vs. towards, I now came to use *toward* based on the following logic:

Naturally: Oral language prevails over written and habits in word usage stick to people because people hear words (pronounced by others or by themselves) more frequently than they read the same words. People talk much more than they read, don't they! :-)

Now, for the sake of analysis, let's just assume that the original word was without the the tailing letter "s". I subjectively allow myself this initial assumption based on the simple, natural fact that languages, just like their carriers, evolved from simple to more complex in the early stages of their development, so a shorter word (toward) seems more likely to have been used first.

Another reason to support this assumption is the, very logically possible, in my opinion, etymology described by FattyLumpkin above. Quoting:

>

We also know that the word "toward", in most cases, has to be followed by the article "the", followed by a target (an object or a general direction).

As in:

- We walked toward the door.

- The plane flew toward the mountain.

- Less people were seen on the beach toward the end of the summer.

In most such examples, as we listen, we hear the sound [s] that actually belongs to the article "the".

Notice: (toward_the) sounds almost same as (towards_a).

This gets us subconsciously accustomed to the sound [s] after "toward" leading many to believe that the "s" is a true part of some word "towards" that we seem to hear so often.

Based on the above logic I currently tend to believe that the shorter word, "toward", was probably the original word to have been used. And I choose to stick to it myself.

However, should I learn about a logical enough story of how a longer (original?) word "towards" could have mutated (simplified?) to become "toward", I might reconsider my current preference/disposition.


Lalala 6 years ago

I agree with Daryl. There are certainly times when one usage seems more appropriate than the other. In my opinion, using one consistently in every instance is awkward. I would most likely say "It was swinging backwards and forwards." but also "Let them move forward." Perhaps a natural rule for the correct usage is evolving and that's why we all feel so confused? :)


Tom Shelly 6 years ago

Strunk and White - The Element of Style. READ IT. No such word as towards. Use toward every time.


louspal 6 years ago

I recentley had an English professor who marked-up my "towards". She did not deduct this from my grade but it did have the effect of stopping me from using the idiom in my writing.


Technokat 6 years ago

The definition found in the "Dictionary" application on my computer states:

toward |tôrd; t(?)?wôrd|

preposition (also towards |tôrdz; t(?)?wôrdz|)

1 in the direction of : I walked toward the front door.

• getting closer to achieving (a goal) : an irresistible move toward freedom.

• close or closer to (a particular time) : toward the end of April.

2 as regards; in relation to : he was warm and tender toward her | our attitude toward death.

• paying homage to, esp. in a superficial or insincere way : he gave a nod toward the good work done by the fund.

3 contributing to the cost of (something) : the council provided a grant toward the cost of new buses.

adjective |?t???d| [ predic. ] archaic

going on; in progress : is something new toward?

ORIGIN Old English t?weard (see to , -ward ).

----

Please read the final line. I find it most interesting that the "Old English" form (from which this term originated) did not use the "s." Well, then, pray tell, how do the modern English speakers from Great Britain explain its addition? Old English apparently never had it. This seems absurd to me as an English speaker from the U.S. Any answers from the folks across the pond?


Mighty Mom profile image

Mighty Mom 6 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

Hi Robin! Congratulations! I googled "use of towards. vs. toward" and your hub came up! Needless to day I had to stop and leave you a comment. Woo hoo! Mighty Mom


geet 6 years ago

towards vs toward .towards sounds better and common. but i just realize today when trying to structure a sentence the (s) actually doesn't represent any funtion so i prefer toward.


FattyLumpkin 6 years ago

With respect to any word ending in ...ward, my take has always been this: I think of the possible origina of the word, as it potentially relates to combat. "Warding" - effectively meaning "guarding" - could be the base for these words, with each of their prefixes indicating a different defensive direction: e.g., "forward" meaning "guard the front" (or push to the front to guard), with the remaining prefixes having similar meaning, ultimately leading us to use the words without the trailing "s".


Old Elizabeth 6 years ago

The confusion, dismay, and even anger generated from differences in the grammar used by different regions is futile. I have experienced all of these, and now come to realize that this is the way all languages have evolved over time. It's as natural as tree growth. Branches grow up; roots grow down. Both are vital in contributing to the life of the tree.


santi 6 years ago

Hi. Thanks for your post.


santi 6 years ago

Hi. Thanks for your post.


vern 6 years ago

Reading all this confusion, opinion, and tradition about toward vs. towards makes me take some comfort about my ignorance as a school lad 70 years ago. I remember clearly going to the huge dictionary at the back of the classroom and struggling to find the word I had often heard used to express the idea of moving in such a direction as to decrease the distance between myself and another object. My ear had often heard something like T-O-R-G-E but Webster could not confirm such hearing. No matter how I altered my basic initial spelling attempt, I could not find the correct spelling for this direction indicator. Frustrated I returned to my desk and rewrote my paragraph to eliminate the need for torge (aka towards).

So... since the common pronounciation of "toward" does end with a "duh" sound and the common pronounciation of "towards" swallows the "d", I always use the s-less form to assure clarity in speaking/hearing. I rank oral clarity over nationality. :)


This is Probably Wrong Get A Second Opinion 6 years ago

Zahngounia, I believe that the sentence you gave as an example could be written one of two ways:

1) "Everyone came with a partner." or

2) "Each person came with his partner."

"Each person came with her partner." is also correct, naturally. Or you could be very fair and write "Each person came with his or her partner."

"Partner" already implies possession or ownership, which makes option 1 possible. Often ownership needs to be stated more directly, however, and this creates a problem. An example that emphasize this problem would be: "Everyone must use their own pencil."

This is wrong.

"Each person must use his or her own pencil." is right, but it is obnoxious sounding. This is why "their" is very commonly used in order to encompass both genders, however much it makes some people cringe.


Zahngounla 6 years ago

It confuses me when "everyone" is interchanged with "they" in the same sentence or meaning. For example, everyone came with their partner or whatever. I am from Zahngounla, Liberia; English is neither my 1st or 2nd language.

Please help--anyone?

Thanks


Bindu 6 years ago

Thank you a lot! I had always this doubt and never used this word"towards" or "toward" quite confidently. I shall now go on to use "towards" as I am more comfortable with it. Thank you once again.


Daryl 6 years ago

I disagree. I think if I were to jump upward towards a tree branch, no one should think that an improper description; but if I were to jump upwards toward the same branch, you all should. However, I might just look upwards at the branch, and that'd be all right.

The use of a double `s' is disgusting;---e.g. to move forwards towards an object. And no `s' at all is as bad.

But I'm just a physicist, so who am I to judge detail.

I've recently been reading `David Copperfield', and Dickens definitely uses both forms of the suffix; e.g., forward and forwards. There seems to be a reason for both which should be defineable, but I'm not enough up on my grammar to tell what it is.

I got on to this idea somewhat recently when I read `Towards Zero', by Agatha Christie, and noticed that it sounded like a funny name.

Dictionary.com says some rubbish about there being no distinction, although some have tried to argue that there is;---that it is purely a British/English thing.

I think a better-known distinction existed in proper English, at one point. Now, Americans definitely tend to chop of the `s' on any word suffixed with a -ward, and some British maybe do use -wards too frequently; but proper usage of both is noticeable when one reads masters of the language, such as Dickens. On the other hand, I had a tough time reading `The Spiderwick Chronicles' to my daughter, in which there is not a `-wards' to be found.

I'm just playing now, but could it be that the `s' is to be used when the destination is better-defined, and that it should be dropped when there is no stated destination.

For example, `we are flying upward' vs. `we are flying upwards into the sky'.

This is the best I've got for now, and I'm definitely not all sorted on the issue;---otherwise I wouldn't have stumbled here! I'd love to see any comments specific to what I've said.

P.S. I'm also Canadian, and I also abhor the Americanised spelling `-or', as opposed to `-our', as well as the ZEE in `-ise/-isation/etc.'. ZED should be used far less frequently, and it is ignorant and arrogant to change the pronunciation of a letter to better suit a song! The suffix `-or' should be pronounced as the word `or', which no one does. In contrast, many accents DO pronounce the suffix `-our' as the word `our'; so that spelling---which is also the original---is at least sometimes consistent. If Americans would change the suffix so as to better suit our accents, it should properly have been changed to `-eur' (`-er' wouldn't work), as in `neighbeur', or `honeur'. But that's just stupid! Keep the fucking spelling as is!


Shubham 6 years ago

Well, the whole point of a language is to communicate. I fail to understand the divide between American and British english. I feel that neither an American nor a Brit would get confused about the meaning of a sentence if one uses towards or toward. Both usages should be accepted interchangeably.


jen 6 years ago

Now for a REAL mixup... I am a CANADIAN, journalist and editor, raised British and stuck with American spellcheck at work! D'oh!!! I came looking for this because the "s" seemed vaguely suspect to me, but I am proofreading for a Brit so shall leave it be. The ones that hurt my eyes are "Z" instead of "s" in organise etc, "o" instead of "ou" in honour and colour, etc...


phoenixhunter47 6 years ago

I concur with prior postings. I edit work for an online group of writers. The group is a mix of US and British participants, though I am British myself.

The differences between spelling, grammar and punctuation are amazing, but to focus back on topic - 'toward' is chiefly American English, while 'towards' is chiefly British English.


nenafay 6 years ago

I've always considered my self to be grammatically above-average, but as an American living in Britain, this has been one of my pitfalls. I found it terribly frustrating to have edited my husband's essays only to have him pass them on to an English teacher and get them back re-edited with the s back in toward! Interesting exchange. I've definitely learned/learnt something here :)


vinod 6 years ago

Hello all,

Just to add, since we've had british for over 200 years, Indians mostly use 'Towards' & not 'toward'.


Frank 6 years ago

An English journalist writes: 'Toward' sounds like a stunted form of the word, typical of the language used by rough colonials. Comments on the American viewpoint, PM's in particular, are very interesting as they indicate the opposite perception. The contraction of the language by use of simplified grammar and, in particular, reduced punctuation can render American English ambiguous to an English reader; although Americans presumably understand the conventions and mentally fill in the parts that are missing. Less is not necessarily more.

NB. My grammar is not necessarily perfect. That's a sub-editor's job.


LG 6 years ago

Use wbom when a preposition precedes the direct object. For example: to whom and for whom = to him and for him. Use who when it is subjective. For example: who is the boy at the table? "He" is the boy at the table. Hope this helps.


Sophia 6 years ago

hi robin! i wanted to know of you could help me with my essay for school. which of the following do you think is correct: "He slowly turned toward the stairs." OR "He slowly turned towards the stairs."

answer back ASAP! this is due this week

-sophia


Bataille 6 years ago

From the Chicago Manual of Style :

toward; towards. The preferred form is without the s in American English, with it in British English. The same is true for other directional words, such as upward, downward, forward, and backward, as well as afterward. The use of afterwards and backwards as adverbs is neither rare nor incorrect. But for consistency it is better to stay with the shorter forms.


webwriter 6 years ago

wow! this is one educational series of exchanges.. the Internet does provide an answer to many questions--on grammar included.. =)


PM 6 years ago

I'd have to agree with the comment from Jonathon, that the added s sounds like some sort of rural colloqualism (says the small-town American). As far as the British perspective on it goes, I put that one in the same category as "learnt", which is more of an ingrained irregular conjugation than the more American "learned".


BK 6 years ago

I have been curious about this too and that is how I ended up here. I was looking for which of it to use in writings or rather when to use 'toward' and when to use 'towards.'


Curious 6 years ago

Do you have a hub on "who" vs "whom"?


Michigan Mom 7 years ago

If you've got a journalism background like I do, you're a "toward" person. AP Style says always use "toward" and not "towards."


Oliver 7 years ago

I'm British and live in the USA. Americans incorrectly use "toward" rather than "towards". Americanised English can be amusing, I still refuse to refer to "trousers" as "pants" and "Jelly" as "Jell-o" though :-)


Kerri 7 years ago

I agree with uppity. I use "toward" exclusively and was taught (many years ago) that "towards" is incorrect. How they came to be used and accepted interchangably is indicative of our language's downward trend to common rather than formal usage.


uppity 7 years ago

While toward and towards technically can be used interchangeably, the use of towards 'sounds' lower class or uneducated. I wish that didn't sound so elitist; but, many feel this way.


Gabrielle 7 years ago

Editing myself:

Actually "worse" is the comparative form; "worst" is superlative.


Gabrielle 7 years ago

Sorry, USA!!!USA!!!USA!!...

"Worser" is not a word. "Worse" is already the superlative form of "bad," so there's nowhere to go with it...


USA!!!USA!!!USA!! 7 years ago

worse vs worser

IS A GOOD ONE TOO!


agfoster 7 years ago

But "towards" never occurs in the King James Bible, printed in England in 1611, and "toward" never occurs in the Book of Mormon, printed in New York in 1830 (with two exceptions, one quote from the Bible and one changed after the 1830 ed.). Clearly "toward" is the earlier form of the word, but "towards" developed in England, and both forms made their way across the Atlantic.


Perfle 7 years ago

I am glad, atleast 'towards' is not plural and, we can use it interchagably. Had it been plural, it would have made life difficult.


Perfle 7 years ago

I am glad, at least 'towards' is not plural and, we can use it interchagably. Had it been plural, it would have made life difficult.


Vish 7 years ago

@Mike: upward is used as an adjective (e.g. upward mobility), upwards is not.


tiu 7 years ago

I think so. :) Just add a period.


Mario  8 years ago

Is the following sentence correctly written "They keep running towards the lake'


Mike 8 years ago

Would the same be true with upward vs. upwards?


James 8 years ago

I was born and raised in Manila and am now based in the US. I've always been bilingual since I was little and always knew that the english we were speaking was American English but for some reason I would always say "towards". It is good to know that both are correct.


Lida Mallosi 8 years ago

Hi there! What does subsufficient mean?


Abdul Khalil 8 years ago

For sure, what i learned and searched in the books and asked other colleaqes the are used to show the same idea only with some narrow and slight difference, which is the usage of GB and US English.

Abdul Khalil Hassani

From Kabul Afghanistan


Lissie profile image

Lissie 8 years ago from New Zealand

I use toward rather than towards - but the difference between UK and US usage is a nightmare - is gotten really used in US english - in UK usage is very slangy but I see it quite a lot on the web


Robin profile image

Robin 9 years ago from San Francisco Author

Thanks for the comment, Jonathon. I appreciate it!


Jonathon VS 9 years ago

Personally, I prefer "toward" to "towards" in formal writing, mostly because an added "s" is often indicative of sloppy diction (e.g. "All's you can do is wait.").

If I were to suggest "towards" for use, it would be to indicate direction, mostly because I've seen and heard it in that capacity more often.


Robin profile image

Robin 9 years ago from San Francisco Author

Thanks for the British English reinforcement, StuartJ! It is always interesting to hear your take.


StuartJ profile image

StuartJ 9 years ago from Christchurch, New Zealand

This is an interesting one. I would tend towards using towards with the "s" myself, which gives weight to idea that it is more common in British English. But I would agree that in common usage they are probably used interchangeably.


Robin profile image

Robin 10 years ago from San Francisco Author

Hi Jimmy. In the context you are using, the correct usage would be, "I look forward to your next posting". You used "further" correctly too! Did you see my hub on further vs. farther? http://hubpages.com/literature/Grammar_Mishaps__Fa...

Thanks for the comments! Robin


jimmythejock profile image

jimmythejock 10 years ago from Scotland

oops forgot my example,i look towards your next posting for further guidance. rather than i look forward to your next posting for further guidance.....jimmy


jimmythejock profile image

jimmythejock 10 years ago from Scotland

Although Brittish, English is not my strong point.

could i look towards your next posting? or would i have to look forward to your next posting.....jimmy

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