Toward or Towards

Someone recently wrote in with the following question:

I was recently reading a book that used the word “towards” many times. I have always said, “I went toward the lake.” But, in this book the author wrote several sentences such as, “I went towards the lake.” The author is a professor of liturature at John Hopkins. So, I’m wondering if I have always been incorrect. On the other hand, English is her second language. So, perhaps I am correct. Or, maybe there are times when it should be plural and others when it should be singular. Please advise.

The good news is that you are both correct. Because the word acts as a preposition, not a noun, adding the “s” doesn’t make it plural. Frankly, I don’t even know which form I use. It probably depends on the context, how it sounds with the words around it. However, the American Heritage Dictionary of English Usage claims that “toward” is used more often in American English, while “towards” is used more often in British English. So, if you are an American and the author is from outside of the U.S. and presumably learned a form of British English, that would explain why you and she use different forms of the word.

The difference between the American and British version of “toward(s)” follows a general pattern that I’ve noticed. It seems that when Americans and Brits spell words differently, or use slightly different words to express the same thing, the American version is shorter, leaner, with fewer letters than the more decorative British version:

American British
color colour
draft draught
while whilst
on upon
dialog dialogue
check cheque
program programme

Please note that this idea of mine is based only on casual observation, so I have no idea if it would hold up to closer scrutiny. Maybe someone will post a comment with either supporting or contrary evidence. That would be nice.

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75 Responses to Toward or Towards

  1. Jessica says:

    I am an American married to a Brit and currently living in the UK. I have also taught English as a foreign language and so have seen British textbooks teaching English and American textbooks teaching English. I have been interested in American/English differences for a while.
    From my own casual observation, I would agree with your casual observation. It seems to be fairly accepted that American English tends to be more concise and a bit simpler–for example, Brits tend to use the present perfect tense on occasions when Americans would use the past simple tense (e.g. Brits: Yes, I have spoken to her or Richard has written a draft; Americans: Yes, I spoke to her or Richard wrote a draft)
    It is funny, though–sometimes when someone uses a particular spelling or word rather than another it’s assumed that the the option they don’t use is from across the pond. For example, the difference between “advisor” and “adviser” – I have always used “advisor” but on my business card it is spelled “adviser”. I assumed “er” was the British version, but other people in my office use “or” and assumed that “er” is the American version!
    Same thing happened the other day when discussing the word “repeating” (meaning, to vomit). It is an old-fashioned sort of word so I thought it was common in England, whereas my English friends thought that American phrases tend to be old-fashioned so they thought it was common in the States!

  2. her-oine says:

    Great article! I am, however, a firm touter of “toward.” It’s clean and sounds fresh & crisp. “Towards” sounds sloppy, but I actually hear it all the time. (twitch)

  3. Steve says:

    I have little faith in a grammar website that misspells ‘literature’ and ‘cheque’, though I recognize that the misspelling of ‘literature’ was in the body of a note from a reader. This error could have been corrected by an editor rather than allowing other readers to believe the author was actually reading his or her first book.

  4. Karl says:

    Steve, thank you for your comment. The misspelling of literature is clearly within a blockquote; sorry, but I’m not responsible for my readers’ spelling ability. As for cheque, what can I say? Maybe it was a typo, or maybe it was a mental lapse. Either way, however, it’s a pretty small error to cause such a lack of faith. Besides, as an American, my default spelling of the word is check.
    I’ve seen typos in grammar books and style guides, mainstream newspapers and well respected magazines, but unless the errors exemplify a pattern of sloppy writing, I don’t get too upset about them. Furthermore, the link between correct spelling and proper grammar is weak at best.
    I do appreciate that you pointed out the misspellings, and I hope that my reply doesn’t appear too defensive. I humbly admit that my site is far from perfect and welcome any additional corrections you are willing to call to my attention. Since I don’t have any copy editors, perhaps the comment form can help my readers to serve that function.

  5. Phranzysko says:

    Thank you for your explanation on the subject.
    I learned English in this country, and was never taught about this–though I never asked wether there was a difference or not on the word (or words) toward, or towards.
    Let me just point out that, even though I learned English in the US, to me it’s just a matter of which word I like the best–I always lean towards “towards.”

  6. mary elaine dela rama says:

    Thank you for explaining about the subject.
    Is it really true that “toward” is an American English and “towards” is a British English”?
    I just wanna clarify because I’m an ESL teacher in the Philippines. My Korean students too, were confused about the difference between the two and which one is correct.

  7. Karl says:

    Hi Mary Elaine,
    It’s not that simple, but you’re on the right track. “Toward” is more common in American English, while “towards” is more common in British English.
    Perhaps I should have provided direct quotations, as well as links to the original sources. According to The American Heritage Book of English Usage:

    Some critics have tried to discern a semantic distinction between toward and towards, but the difference is entirely dialectal. Toward is more common in American English; towards is the predominant form in British English.

    Here is the entry from The Columbia Guide to Standard American Usage:

    Toward and towards are Standard and interchangeable in meaning. American English uses both, but toward more often; British English uses towards more.

  8. Seth Sams says:

    I am shocked! I truly thought there was a difference, in either one of two ways: either that the subject’s being plural or singurlar determined the difference between “toward” and “towards;” or that one was a preposition referring to placement in time, and the other in reference to physical movement. “The night moved toward the stroke of midnight.” or “They moved towards the gate.” ????

  9. Karl says:

    Hi Seth,
    The second possibility you raise reminds me of the distinction that some people make between “further” and “farther.”
    I haven’t been able to find a reputable source that makes either distinction you note regarding “toward” and “towards,” but if you can find one, please let me know. Sorry to have shocked you. :-)

  10. Sean says:

    I’ll stick to “towards”…sounds more classy…

  11. Kelly says:

    Thanks for addressing this — I’ve been wondering for a while. It amuses that Sean thinks that “towards” sounds more classy. I tend to lean toward “toward” because I think THAT sounds more classy. Could it be a regional thing here in the states? I grew up in midwest…

  12. James says:

    In proper english – that is British English,
    program and programme are descriptions of two separate articles.
    A computer program
    A television programme
    I therefore do not believe the “Americanism” above is correct.

  13. Karl says:

    James, British English is certainly proper in England (as well as most of the former colonies), but it isn’t in America.
    In the United States, we refer to “television programs,” not “programmes.”
    The “Americanism” above is correct — in America.

  14. The Kitten King says:

    I just stumbled on your site today when I was trying to understand the difference for lighted and lit. While reading this article I became curious about how common typically British or American usages cross cultures. For example I was born, raised, and educated in America but I still default to ‘grey,’ ‘colour,’ and ‘towards,’ although I have never used ‘cheque’ or ‘programme.’
    I always tilt my head in curiosity when MS word corrects ‘grey’ and ‘colour,’ I honestly couldn’t tell you which one was common until I was in college.
    I am curious if other people have had this experience.
    (excuse grammar and spelling errors please, I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for a spot of insomnia)
    Thanks in advance!
    Vlad N.

  15. Hey,
    This is a really interesting post. I’m working on finishing my second book, in fact this should be my last day editing, and I’ve been dealing with seemingly endless little grammatical and mainly editorial style issues for the last month or so. Little issues like this drive me insane, I have to admit, because here you think you’ve done the hardest part of the book (it’s non-fiction), you’ve done all of the research, written the book, and I even have a 47-page bibliography (in 10 font size), but then I get into all of the nitty gritty little issues of polishing the book and it becomes very frustrating.
    I checked my manuscript just now for “toward” and “towards,” because I happened to think about it while editing this page. I just looked at the word and went, “Hmm… should this be toward or towards?” That led me here. In every instance I could find in my book, I used “towards.” I guess it’s clear which one I prefer! For some reason, that just sounds better to my ears, I’m sure it’s a style issue, just one of those decisions you make. I really cannot say why logically, it is just something that somehow looks better to me.
    Interesting stuff, though, thanks!
    PS: My first book sold quite well over in the U.K. thanks to a favorable review from a fan site webmaster over there, so I guess my British readers will be pleased with my decision.

  16. Andrew says:

    as an american research editor, i vastly prefer “toward.”
    although i recognize that “towards” is an acceptable term, the unnecessary ‘s’ in “towards” reminds me of other words (such as “anywayS”) that inappropriately use an ‘s.’ therefore, “towards” strikes me as informal sounding.
    however, my girlfriend, an editor in the arts, recently tried to defend “towards” by comparing it to the usage of “further” and “farther.” so, karl, i’m smugly satisfied to learn that you found no evidence for this parallel!

  17. Justin says:

    Fascinating article.
    I am curious as to whether or not it would be looked down upon to interchange them in one’s own writing. Others mentioned that based on which one chooses to use that it is apropos to their writing style. That suggests that a person has an affection toward one use or another.
    But what if a person has an affection towards both words based on style of the piece or even the style of the sentence? Is it looked down upon to be inconsistent, or is it considered more stylistic for its ease of read?
    I would hope the time would come when I could see using “toward” in a specific occasion and “towards” in another specific occasion because then I would knew I understood it. As of now, I’m at a loss as to how I should approach this issue. I assume it could even come down to individual tastes and desires and there may be no concrete answer.
    Concerning further and farther, as it has been brought up several times without being clarified, I have always been taught that “farther” was the measure of distance while generally “further” was a measure of time. “We’ll talk about your raise further on down the road;” “There’s a gas station down the road that’s just farther from us than the pancake house.” I’d like to know what other people have been taught.

  18. Andrew says:

    it’s probably fine to alter your use of toward/towards in different contexts. however, it’s important to stay consistent within the same document; otherwise it will appear that you are being careless. if i were you, i’d stick with the version that’s the norm in your region of interest (i.e., toward in the US and towards in the UK).
    -andrew

  19. chem says:

    Today I asked the same question on a grammar forum and that forum’s folk found for me
    “in AM and sometimes in BRIT, use toward In addition to the uses shown below, towards is used in phrasal verbs such as `count towards’ and `lean towards’.
    (c) HarperCollins Publishers.”

  20. Jasper N Henderson says:

    I find the topic of differences between English English and American English amusing. The fact that in the U.S. one can be corrected for spelling neighbor “neighbour” (a spelling that pleases my eyes), but can use “toward” or “towards” interchangably seems bizarre. If only this language, a mash-up of Romance and Germanic roots could be consistent. Thanks for the clarification (or rather broad-ification). As far as British English being “proper,” this rings patently untrue in the U.S.
    Thanks chem for a closer definition. Either way this seems to be a definite gray (or grey….) area.

  21. David Poffenberger says:

    Can “toward” create more of a sense of finality than “towards,” or have I just thought about this too long?
    Ex:
    The boy is headed toward darker times (gives a sense that darker times are unavoidable for the boy.)
    The boy is headed towards darker times (gives a sense that the current direction the boy is headed will take him to darker times, but he may still be able to change his direction).

  22. Ben says:

    I agree that there is something indefinite and more abstract in “towards” that is not connoted in the more grounded “toward”. (although, I think mostly in colloquial conversation it is not necessary to make such a clear deliniation)
    example: walking on a path where you can see the destination is ‘toward’, but when you cannot see it and are using another means of navigatiion then it would be ‘towards”.

  23. andrew says:

    This isn’t particularly relevant to the most recent TOWARD/TOWARDS comments, but I just stumbled upon a TOWARD/TOWARDS reference in Amy Einsohn’s The Copyeditor’s Handbook. Einsohn claims that although dictionaries show TOWARD/TOWARDS as equal variants, “Many book publishers have unshakable…industrywide…preferences” for TOWARD over TOWARDS (125-126). I’ve found Einsohn’s book to be a great resource for US copyediting–it’s a swell synthesis of APA, CBE, CMOS, Wired Style, Words into Type, Fowler, and Follet–so I tend to think that for professional writing TOWARD is the better choice….

  24. Jeff Poffenberger says:

    When I realized that I’d never been taught a rule that would resolve this problem, I made up my own based upon the rule for “a” and “an”. I make my own rules. I’m trouble. When followed by a word beginning with a consonant, I use toward. When followed by a word beginning with a vowel, I use towards. This is also based on personal aesthetic taste. I like Mr. Poffenberger’s idea about indicating finality, though, and may use it if it seems to make a difference. I like his name. I may use that as well.

  25. Sammarcelli says:

    I have to agree with Andrew. I feel the “s” is unnecessary in “towards”. I also liken it to the use of “anywayS” which is sometimes heard inappropriately used with an ‘s’ at the end (cringe). The use of “towards” seems very casual in an unappealing way. I absolutely prefer “toward”.

  26. Bryce says:

    The argument of whether one should spell this object word “toward” or “towards” is entirely immaterial. Since English, unlike High French or High Spanish, is not a “prescribed language” in that it is not overseen by a body to regulate it unilaterally, style choices such as these are the prerogative of those who use it verbally. Although British English is indeed a more ancient form of the language, one can not simply dub it to be more correct than American English.
    To gather some insight as to the origin of this problem, one observes the etymology of such a preposition: “toward” comes from Old English where it was written at “to ward” or “toweard.” In certain cases (specifically in poetic verse) “to wards” would be employed, thus invoking the Old English Genitive Case through the character “s.” The word “ward2” is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary to mean “[the] action of watching or guarding.” Etymologically we interpret this as “a born(e) witness,” and as one is a born(e) witness of something (or less clearly to something) a genitive article is elegantly derived e.g. “I stood towards the crime scene” = “I stood witness of/to the crime scene ”. The distinction between “toward” and “towards” relies on whether one considers it used as a dative preposition or a genitive phrase with equal meaning.

  27. Karl says:

    Wow, Bryce! That was a fantastic explanation. Thank you for taking the time to share your expertise.

  28. Charis says:

    According to the Collins English Dictionary, the suffix “-ward” means “in the direction towards”. Hence the words leeward, upward, downward, backward (or backwards). It is a different word from ward, meaning “to guard”.
    Although British English is mentioned as an older form of the language, US pronunciation of some words, for example those with a long “o”, as in cloth, is sometimes closer to old British English than current British English. Another example is the word “missile”, pronounced “missle” in the US and “miss isle” in Britain.
    I was told years ago that the shorter neater US spellings were instigated by Noah Webster and his famous dictionary.

  29. Anna says:

    Thanks for the info on toward/s!
    As for the British vs American spellings issue, this is only an anecdotal/unconfirmed memory on my part, but I believe some of the spelling differences (“plough” and “plow” come to mind) originate from choices made by Noah Webster in his American English dictionary. This wouldn’t account for all of the differences in spelling and convention of course, but I believe his intent was to simplify English spellings for American usage and spell them more phonetically. Melvil Dewey apparently tried this as well when developing his library classification system – I think he wanted to change things like “philosophy” to “filosofy” … which clearly didn’t stick.
    (A quick Internet search came up with this site on Webster: http://www.greatsite.com/timeline-english-bible-history/noah-webster.html)

  30. Anna says:

    Ah – I should have read the previous post more carefully!
    Webster was definitely responsible for a number of differences, but I imagine others simply developed over time, especially if different precedents of spellings existed on either side of the Atlantic at that point.

  31. Karl says:

    Thanks, Charls and Anna, for contributing to the conversation. It’s both humbling and gratifying to have such erudite wordsmiths visit my little website. Cheers!

  32. Cynthia Freyer says:

    The Associate Press stylebook is the stylebook used by journalists and adhered to by many magazines and other print publications. The rule for toward is to spell it without the “s” As PR professionals and journalists use AP style, that’s a large group of writers in the United States who follow the rule of no “s.” Just my two cents on the topic.

  33. Sarah Harvey says:

    This was actually quite fascinating. I’ve always used either one or the other, without really quite knowing if I was using the right one (or if there even was a right one).
    It is also interesting because being a Canadian myself, I use a mixture of the different spellings. I prefer colour to color (and am sometimes scrutinized for it, for some strange reason); I tend to use both while and whilst (the same goes for on and upon); dialogue makes more sense to me than dialog; check means an entirely different thing to me than cheque, though this could also be because being a bilingual person I like the sound of ‘cheque’ in French; I use program, and to me programme would be the French equivalent.
    I suppose everybody has their preferred spellings of certain words, or just use their common sense to use whatever sounds best and “fits”. I don’t think you necessarily have to be British to spell it as colour, or American to use while. To each his or her own, I always say!

  34. Jon says:

    Following on and expanding from comment number 12, above (James):
    Many of the so-called ‘distinctions’ you make between US spelling and UK spelling are incorrect.
    For example, the words ‘draft’ and ‘draught’ are both valid UK spellings, but they mean different things. So, in the UK: a draft is a conscription or a rough version; a draught is a wind or beer poured from a tap (preferably the latter).
    Similarly, ‘on’ can be the opposite of ‘off'; ‘upon’ can be ‘on top of’.
    One may ‘check’ something is working properly; one may write a ‘cheque’ to pay for the repairs if it isn’t.

    And, finally, as James noted, one may watch a ‘programme’ on TV about how to ‘program’ computers.
    Simplification can be a useful way to convey information more clearly. But all too often, simplifying becomes oversimplifying.
    Subtleties in spelling are often an important way to convey subtleties in meaning. Lose these subtleties and we end up with George Orwell’s ‘newspeak’ (as demonstrated by another, more recent ‘George’).
    But then I would say that – I’m English.

  35. Mark says:

    Hi, I’m in Australia and we use predominantly British grammar here (although the Americanisms are steadily encroaching). I don’t know if anyone has mentioned this, but the differences in spelling have been attributed by many to the British trying to make English more elegant by appearing French – hence the ‘ou’ in words like colour, honour etc. This occurred in the 18th Century, after the colonisation of America; as much as it hurts me to say it, the American English spelling is often the purer form!

  36. Robert says:

    I came upon your site whilst (while) writing a paper for a grad class. I find all of this incredibly interesting and offer yet another approach. As a musician, I believe we modify words to make them simply sound better. I would use “toward” when used in “I am going toward a house”, yet “towards” when used “I am going towards the house”. Roll some examples around on your own tongue and see what you think. My thought is along the lines of the speech usage of “the” when it is before a vowel sound, or not.

  37. Karl says:

    Mark, that is a fascinating bit of English language history. I wasn’t aware of that.
    Robert, thanks for sharing a musician’s perspective on this issue. Regarding the pronunciation of “the,” you might find my article on that topic interesting as well: Pronouncing the Definite Article.

  38. Sly Fester says:

    If British English is the only correct English, why did we fight the War of Independence?

  39. Andrew says:

    By the way, the Gregg Reference Manual notes that “Both forms are correct, but TOWARD is more common in U.S. usage.”

  40. jack says:

    Thanks this really helps me I am writing a Literary response essay and I was looking for the correct usage.

  41. Kathy says:

    I just had the ‘toward vs. towards’ discussion with my boss. We’re from different Australian states, and he uses ‘toward’ while I use ‘towards’ – although only in speech, in writing I use ‘toward’.
    Just to add to the confusion, I find that in British-published books, speech is defined by using ” and”, while American-published books use ‘ and ‘.

  42. Klaus Hugel says:

    Is there a logical conclusion toward which this sting is heading towards? 8^)

  43. Robert K says:

    I have just read all 40 post in a row, almost without blinking! This just goes to show that this is indeed an interesting discussion.
    When I am writing a story I always stop at the word toward/s. I often sit there for maybe twenty seconds deleting or adding the ‘s’ onto the end. In the end I find that the only way to break the deadlock is to read the sentence, or perhaps the whole paragraph, two or three times in my head. I find that by using that inner voice and by re-reading certain lines there is a rhythm in even the most adjective rich of passages.
    To give you and example I have just written “sprinting from the trees and across the clearing – directly towards him!”
    Now I am a great admirer of Terry Brooks and have read all of his books and have learned a great deal. Being an american author he uses the word ‘toward’ to great effect. When I read his passages I believe that (just as David Poffenberger stated) the word ‘toward’ has a sense of finality to it – a descision already made, this in itself is a great piece of storytelling as it arouses more feeling from a reader than the word ‘towards’.
    In my example I perhaps should indeed use the word toward as a storytellers device so that the scene conveys a sense of inevitability. However I have not and the reason that I give you for that is this:
    I am English :P

  44. SCM says:

    I speak/write South African English which is essentially the same as British English in terms of grammar and spelling.
    I would not think there is any semantic difference between toward and towards, but I would use them in different ways:
    For instance, I would not say, “he reached towards the cup” — I would instead say “he reached toward the cup” — because it’s just there, he doesn’t have to reach very far at all. Towards would be a bit grandiose here for such a simple action.
    I would also say “as he moves toward the goal” but “as we move towards the goal” — the former would have to many S’s to be towards, but in general towards is better at conveying the sense of continuous movement here than toward. To just say, “as we move toward the goal” seems, in my ear, to indicate just a simple direction, rather than a kind of dynamic dexterity that one has as one pursues a goal.
    “as we looked towards the cathedral” — we can look at other things in vista, before we get around to looking out at the cathedral itself.
    But “as we looked toward the wall in front of us” — here, like the cup on the table, towards would be too grandiose for something that we are pretty much staring at
    “the wall is positioned toward the east.” — it just sits there, it’s not doing anything. To say, “the wall is positioned towards the east” might convey the sense that the wall might turn around and decide to face in a different direction.
    I also wonder whether the British preference for towards has anything to do with the existence of the adjectives untoward/toward, meaning, more or less, a person or thing’s readiness to cooperate, be agreeable, etc. I don’t hear Americans referring to an untoward person at all. This may indicate that there is no hint of ambiguity in “toward” for them, whereas there may be a slight ambiguity there in the British ear that could explain a preference for towards.

  45. Daji Kinabu says:

    Simple: British use “towards” why Americans use “toward.”

  46. Sierra says:

    I’ve used ‘toward’ all my life. The other really bothers me for some reason. Same with ‘Where’s my book at?’ Ewwww!
    I’m in Texas now and they say things here like, “We might oughtta go there sometime” or “I might can help you with that” ….. so strange.

  47. Sierra says:

    And one more thing…. the other one that bugs me is “in regards to” It SHOULD be “in regard to”. Right??? (Or was it just those nuns telling me I MUST believe whatever they told me was right?!!)

  48. Kevin says:

    The toward/s quandary has been bothering me because I use both forms. It’s the same with afterward/s. But about the list of American and British variations: I live in America, yet my computer’s dictionary rejected “dialog” until I added it. I personally prefer “dialogue,” though none of the other British forms are part of my daily usage. I am sincerely puzzled about toward/s, though, because I know there’s a gut feeling behind my choice that probably has to do with context, but I can’t pin it down.

  49. Ali P says:

    It’s also important to remember that a lot of British English spellings retain the French spellings, given that the Normans conquered England in 1066 and French was the common language in England for hundreds of years. This explains words like “cheque” and “programme.” I grew up in Maryland but now live in California. In Maryland, I was taught that it’s spelled “draught,” “dialogue,” and “towards/anyways.” This might be because the East Coast has closer connections to Europe.

  50. Jonathan says:

    I most humbly thank you for the elucidation! I have pondered upon this for a very long time now, and finally got it clarify — Marvelous, Thanks!
    / Jonathan

  51. G says:

    I googled for this since I was wondering whether there is any actual difference between these two words.
    I am surprised though at a comment here that says “British English” is not proper English in America. I am a firm believer that written languages can only be stretched and flexed to a certain extent to allow for dialects or other regional influences.
    To me, “Program” in America is as incorrect a spelling of “Programme” as something like “Progrem” or “Progrum” etc. written by an illiterate person on a signboard in a non-English speaking country.
    It is plain discrimination to accept such American spellings as correct and other spellings around the world as incorrect merely because America is a powerful country.
    I’ve seen people laugh and make fun of signboards written in incorrect spelling back home in India but nobody really considers that they are written mostly be people who have had zero formal education in English. It is indeed commendable rather than being condemnable.
    The best way out would be to declare “American” as a different language altogether and differentiate it from English. It would be fair to both parties then. For me, most spelling changes in written language are unacceptable whichever (and however powerful or influential) part of the world they may be from.

  52. Karl says:

    Hi G,

    It is plain discrimination to accept such American spellings as correct and other spellings around the world as incorrect merely because America is a powerful country.

    Nobody is suggesting that other spellings around the world are incorrect

  53. Leo Girard says:

    I referenced Oxford Fowler’s “Modern” English usage [a style guide to British English usage, written by Henry W. Fowler, and first published in 1926.] Its entry led me to believe that toward, described as a colonialism, was probably the original transplanted form. It prescribes “towards” as current usage and toward as LITERARY or obsolete.
    Many “colonial” usages, and indeed perceived errors, have roots in the colonizers’ place of origin. There are probably as many or more accents and variations of English in London itself as there are regional accents in Canada. Regionalisms in Canada have been directly imported from over ‘ome. Even I should’a went and should’a came is here in Britain. And what do you call your mid-day meal> Dinner? lunch? Is it lunchtime? or dinnertime?

  54. Sid says:

    What a brilliant discussion!
    I’m from Australia and can tell you that ‘towards’ is easily the preferred form both spoken and written. I had always thought ‘toward’ sounded quaint and fashioned but now it turns out to be the common form in the US!
    In reply to the discussion on ‘anyways’ being an acceptable form of ‘anyway’, I’ve only seen it written as anyway, but anyways is common in speech.
    In Australia like Britain upwards, downwards, backwards etc. are the dominant terms as opposed to no ‘s’ on the end.
    One difference between Britain and Australia is that ‘program’ is the dominant spelling for all meanings of the word here in Oz.

  55. amy says:

    Whenever I’m typing a paper on the computer, occasionally I’ll use the British spelling of the word, rather than the American version. Yet the spell check says it’s wrong.
    And that’s annoying.

  56. cj says:

    I see ‘toward’ as the preposition – kind of like ‘to':
    I walked to the ballgame.
    I walked toward the ball diamond.
    and ‘towards’ like an adverb:
    I walked quickly to the football match. (a more british flavour to the previous sentence)
    I walked towards to the football pitch.
    Here, ‘towards’ explains how you are walking ‘in a towardly fashion’
    So it seems to me that the Americans prefer to just say where they are going, whilst the British prefer to flower things up a bit by explaining how one is going.
    It would be interesting to see if there are other situations like this that lend support to my claim.

  57. Tom O'Neill says:

    In a US school 50 years ago our grammar teacher (and text) drew this distinction between “toward” and “towards:” one moves toward a concrete destination but towards an abstract one. “They moved toward the city.” “The moved towards enlightenment.” Has anyone else encountered this distinction, which now, according to all the sources I’ve consulted, is no longer followed?

  58. Joseph says:

    Hey Sid,
    I’m also from Australia, I think ‘programme’ is the correct form in Oz, though due to a heavy influence from american products like computers and tv shows our younger generations are adopting the US spelling. I”ve also noticed that people no longer write ‘gaol’ for jail and I even had an arguement with my 16 year old sister about the pronounciation of Z. She says zee, I say zed.

  59. Carol says:

    Interesting thread! Message to Jessica: I’m also an American living in the UK. I have always understood ‘repeating’ to mean burping, not vomiting. When your dinner repeats on you, it comes back a little. As for the original question, I like Tom O’Neill’s rule!

  60. Sanford says:

    Thank you. After reading the previous 57 comments, I have made my decision regarding the use of toward vs. towards. My decision is based primarily on what makes the most sense to me. However, as it happens, there is an element of compromise that may in some small measure contribute to world peace (or, at least, peace in the English speaking world). As discussed by several contributors and solidified by Tom O’Neill comment 57, in the future, I will move toward a concrete destination and towards an abstract destination. (Note to my wife Rose: You see. I was correct when I wrote – “my friends naturally gravitated towards each other.”)

  61. Jamie says:

    I am so amazed that these comments started in 05′ and here it is 08′ and people are still commenting. I, like many others, found this site while checking the two words. I am not so hard on myself now for not being able to figure out which I should use. By the way, for those of you who like to pick on spelling in these comments, I’m no expert, and I don’t claim to be -so pick on someone else. :)

  62. Christian says:

    In the United States, “toward” is the preferred form amongst most scholars, whereas the form “towards” is considered by most as sub-standard American English. The same is especially true for the words “backward” and “forward,” for the forms “backwards” and “forwards” are similarly considered sub-standard American English. Such sub-standard forms are most commonly heard in southern communities of the United States wherein many populations tend to speak sentences in a somewhat more slurred manner by incorporating additional “s” sounds therein so as to more smoothly connect words into their sentences. Cajun (i.e., French) influences in the south, such as in Louisiana, are believed by some to have given rise to such sub-standard word forms. Though incorporating such additional “s” sounds into sentences may make a speaker’s job easier by requiring less effort, such additional “s” sounds frequently make it quite difficult for a listener to understand the speaker.

  63. Graham says:

    I don’t believe this is true at all. I’ve lived on the West Coast of the United States since birth and have never heard “toward” in my entire life. (though I was aware that the dialect existed, I’ve just never heard someone use it) “Toward” sounds incomplete and awkward. It’s like saying “backward” instead of “backwards,” and I’ve never heard of anyone saying the former in any dialect despite their both being grammatically correct. I think either it’s just up to preference or it’s regional, and has nothing to do with the countries as a whole.

  64. Marius Nightwind says:

    my formula:
    towards, toward, to = abstract, generic, simple

  65. Kim says:

    Very useful article. I have always been taught to use “toward” and that “towards” was incorrect, as the “s” is unecessary. Plus, I agre with “her-oine”, as “toward” sounds better.
    Thanks!

  66. Amy says:

    Thank you for the confirmation of toward. I am an English teacher who has dedicated her life to removing the s from all my students’ papers. I agree that it grates in the same way that anyways does and sounds slightly uneducated. I can’t explain that feeling if it is truly the preferred British style as most British styles sound more literate, but I will continue to remove the s until the red ink runs out of my pen.

  67. Jose says:

    Hello, I’m a former ESL student. I’m a writer (film). I was searching for the difference between “toward” and “towards” because my two proofreaders were very inconsistent with them. I tend to use “towards” with Third-person singular and “toward” with “I” and plural… Until now that I guess I’ll stick to “toward” all the way :)… If one day someone complains, I’ll simple blame it on all of you! Ha! BTW I think TOWARD sounds more classy than “Towards” even more when is next to a word that has another “s”. Example ” He leans towards Sandra” – He leans toward Sandra (sounds much more cleaner to me!).
    Excuse my poor grammar but that is why I have proofreaders :D.
    Greetings!
    P.S. I love this web-site :)

  68. Ed says:

    Wow…am I ever glad I found this site!? I don’t think I’ve ever come across another case wherein such a varied collection of perspectives on a single word was accumulating with no end in sight. I will bookmark this URL so I may return from time to time to see if and how it gets worked out. In the mean time, I will usually employ “toward” in my own prose and wonder each time as I type it.

  69. Martha Wood says:

    I just found this site while grading AP Lit papers and wondering about toward/towards. I, too, am obsessed with “proper” English, but just as I master a rule, I find that nobody else cares anymore. For example, I laboriously learned the usage of shall, vs will. Now I have no one to impress with my knowledge because no one cares. I do, however, care that people pronounce often as “off-ten,” whereas no one prounounces the words as “lis-ten,” “Has-ten,” “sof-ten,” etc.

  70. Carla says:

    I also learned in school that toward is used for a more concrete destination while towards is used for a more abstract one. I think someone with a red ink pen might do well to find out for certain before perpetuating and judging what may in fact be correct usage.
    While the consensus here seems to be that ‘toward’ is the more American usage, the whole reason I discovered this site is because I am increasingly seeing ‘towards’ used indiscriminantly, and in many otherwise scholarly (and professionally edited) works, here in America. Which perhaps illustrates what I believe is at the root of many ‘substandard’ Americanisms: evolution. Just as animals in different climates and locations evolve differently into various species and subspecies, so has the English language evolved, and continues to evolve. Sometimes I regret this, as with the apparently lost distinction between the concrete toward and the abstract towards; but the truth is that discussions like these are what make English such a rich and rewarding language. I don’t claim to be as fluent in any other language, so I don’t know firsthand whether this is true of others, but I LOVE English because of the precision that can be achieved with a ‘simple’ vocabulary choice. Granted, that subtlety is lost on some, but while the subtlety may be lost, the broader meaning isn’t, or shouldn’t be. This is rather like picking up social cues or reading facial expressions: some people ‘read’ them well, while others don’t.
    Oh, and as someone from Cajun Louisiana, I wouldn’t accuse the Cajuns of introducing ‘substandard’ words into common English usage, though they do have some quaint and (I think) charming twists, such as vestiges of reflexive verbs: “I’m going to the store, me.” :) To accuse them of bastardizing the English language, I think, is putting a lot of responisibility on their shoulders!
    I would be inclined to put more responsibility on the shoulders of newscasters who reach vast audience with a single personal ‘substandard’ English usage or misusage, to wit, the near-total transormation in the propriety of the word “gender” with reference to sex (the adjective, not the verb or the noun).

  71. Laurel says:

    Although I am not an English teacher, I am a great lover of grammar and have been invested in correcting the grammar of my friends for nearly my entire life.
    I am American, so I suppose my take on this whole issue is somewhat marred by my experience with the dialects of Northern America (I live in New England). Americans (and here my reference to ‘Americans’ refers primarily to North Americans, who live in New England and the Midwest, as opposed to Southern Americans, who live in the Southern and Western parts of North America) will use the form “towards” in conversation, although it is often used somewhat subconsciously, because it is rarely written as “towards”. More often than not, Americans will utilize “toward” in writing, and “toward” is the grammatically accepted form of the word.
    Some examples of standard American usage of the word “toward” are:
    “I walked toward the entrance of the upper school.”
    (Note that some Americans, using sub-standard language may SAY “towards” in this instance, but should write “toward”)
    “She pointed the gun toward her attacker.”
    Again, it is important to note that Americans WILL often use the form “towards” in conversation, such as in the previous two examples, but the grammatically correct way (at least, the accepted American version) of saying and writing the word is “toward”.
    I also feel obligated to comment on this article’s use of the word “dialog” as an American colloquialism. This is orthographically incorrect; Americans spell the word in what is here referenced as the “British” spelling, “dialogue”. You will never see the word “dialog” used in American writing or speech. The word “dialogue” stems from the Anglo-French “dialogue”. You may be refering to the original Middle English word “dialoge”, but Americans use the Anglo-French (or you may prefer to call it British) version of the word.

  72. Leslie Weisman says:

    I haven’t read the entire thread, and am commenting only on the “toward-towards” discussion. While my dictionary (Concise Oxford) doesn’t differentiate between the two, I remember being taught in school that one of them was to be used when the word was being used literally (physical direction), and the other when the sense was more figurative (relational). Of course, now I can’t remember which was which, and the OED won’t weigh in…

  73. Dean says:

    Each morning, I browse the ‘net for brief entertainment before starting the rigors of my work schedule. This morning, I discovered this lengthy…I guess it can be called a discussion…regarding “towards” versus “toward”. After a good laugh at the preposterous amount of rhetoric on such a mundane subject, I thought I would offer my take on the matter.
    I suppose, if I am writing a novel for sale in the UK, perhaps I should opt to use “towards”, while the opposite might be true for literature directed to the US market.
    Hmmm…what if my main character is a Brit traveling in the US? Might he use “towards” in dialog, while the author applies “toward” in narrative. Oh no, I’ve just confused myself…again. LOL

  74. Robin says:

    I don’t care what anyone says. I have always used toward and since I cannot think of any good reason to place an “s” on the end of the word, I will not do it. When I see the word “towards”, it is like fingernails on a blackboard to me.

  75. Andrew says:

    One quick point: The notion that British English is somehow “older” than American English, as one or two have opined, is ludicrous. How is someone in England speaking an “older” version of English than I? The language has evolved and changed in both Britain and the U.S. over centuries. They have the same origin. Neither is any older than the other.
    Incidentally, I am a descendant of Angles, so I suppose my “people” have been speaking this language since its beginning!