The Grammarphobia Blog

Slouching towards Bethlehem

Q: I have always been confused about “toward” and “towards.” Is there a difference between them? A different usage? A different history?

A: The short answer is that both “toward” and “towards” are fine.

The preposition “toward” is more common in American English and “towards” in British English. So an American is likely to say “toward me” and a Briton “towards me.” The meanings are identical, and both versions have been around for more than a thousand years.

I’m also asked a lot about “forward/backward” versus “forwards/backwards.”

In American English, the words in each set are interchangeable and the ones without the “s” are more common.

In British English, there’s a slight difference between “forward/backward” and “forwards/backwards.”

The words in the first set (those without the “s”) are used as adjectives (“forward motion,” “backward glance”), while the others (with the “s”) are used for the most part as adverbs (“move forwards,” “run backwards”).

There are signs, though, that “forward” is gaining in popularity as an adverb in the British Isles. But the last time I looked, Yeats’s rough beast was still slouching “towards” Bethlehem to be born.

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