Updated date:

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."

Any thoughts, clarifications or questions?

Googled on May 01, 2012:

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 on January 25, 2012:

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 on January 05, 2012:

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 on October 11, 2011:

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 on October 11, 2011:

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

E on August 30, 2011:

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 on August 08, 2011:

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 on April 08, 2011:

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 on April 07, 2011:

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.

Tina Boomerina from Seattle (and the world) on March 07, 2011:

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.

Tina Boomerina from Seattle (and the world) on March 06, 2011:

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 on February 02, 2011:

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

KatPr

Steve on January 05, 2011:

Robin:

Thanks for the help here.

Nice page!

Sincerely,

Steve

Kipping on January 03, 2011:

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 on December 12, 2010:

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

"Efforts toward peace have been largely unsuccessful."

Bert on December 12, 2010:

@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 on November 14, 2010:

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 on November 07, 2010:

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

Alex on October 13, 2010:

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 on October 11, 2010:

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 from London on October 03, 2010:

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

Yunis on September 30, 2010:

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 on September 30, 2010:

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 on September 21, 2010:

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 on September 19, 2010:

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

louspal on September 12, 2010:

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 on August 26, 2010:

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?

Susan Reid from Where Left is Right, CA on August 19, 2010:

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 on August 09, 2010:

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 on July 23, 2010:

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 on July 10, 2010:

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 on June 29, 2010:

Hi. Thanks for your post.

santi on June 29, 2010:

Hi. Thanks for your post.

vern on June 15, 2010:

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 on June 15, 2010:

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 on June 04, 2010:

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 on May 23, 2010:

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.

Shubham on April 29, 2010:

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 on April 23, 2010:

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 on April 07, 2010:

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 on March 12, 2010:

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 on March 07, 2010:

Hello all,

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

Frank on February 02, 2010:

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 on January 26, 2010:

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 on January 19, 2010:

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 on January 12, 2010:

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 on November 07, 2009:

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

PM on October 20, 2009:

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 on October 14, 2009:

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 on October 12, 2009:

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

Michigan Mom on September 24, 2009:

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 on September 11, 2009:

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 on September 03, 2009:

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 on August 13, 2009:

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 on August 11, 2009:

Editing myself:

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

Gabrielle on August 08, 2009:

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!! on March 28, 2009:

worse vs worser

IS A GOOD ONE TOO!

agfoster on March 12, 2009:

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 on December 19, 2008:

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.

Perfle on December 19, 2008:

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 on December 15, 2008:

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

tiu on November 04, 2008:

I think so. :) Just add a period.

Mario on August 18, 2008:

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

Mike on July 08, 2008:

Would the same be true with upward vs. upwards?

James on May 16, 2008:

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 on May 15, 2008:

Hi there! What does subsufficient mean?

Abdul Khalil on November 01, 2007:

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

Elisabeth Sowerbutts from New Zealand on October 15, 2007:

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 Edmondson (author) from San Francisco on May 08, 2007:

Thanks for the comment, Jonathon. I appreciate it!

Jonathon VS on May 04, 2007:

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 Edmondson (author) from San Francisco on November 12, 2006:

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

StuartJ from Christchurch, New Zealand on October 23, 2006:

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 Edmondson (author) from San Francisco on September 29, 2006:

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? https://hubpages.com/literature/Grammar_Mishaps__F...

Thanks for the comments! Robin

Jimmy the jock from Scotland on September 29, 2006:

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

Jimmy the jock from Scotland on September 29, 2006:

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