“toward” versus “towards”

This post, Toward or Towards? Definitions, Differences and Examples, came as a response to a question one of the regular readers of Akademia asked me. I decided to put up this post for the benefit of our teeming readers. I hope you too find this educative.

Before talking about the difference between toward and towards, it is important to know what the two terms mean. So we will examine meaning of toward and towards and see their correct usage.

Toward

Toward is a preposition that scholars see as a variant of towards as both convey the same meanings. So let us then see extensively, towards definition…

What is the meaning of Towards?

Towards belongs to the closed class division of the part of speech we know as preposition. (See what is a preposition?). Towards has various shades of meaning. Let us consider some of them…

First, it means ‘in the direction of, en route for, on the road to, toward,’ as you have in the following examples:

  • He walked towards his sister.
  • The fighter jet is heading towards the Middle East.
  • He was walking towards the bank.
  • The bus is headed towards Accra.
  • The excited boy ran towards his father.
  • They drove towards the border town.
  • The children hopped excitedly towards the ice cream van.

 Towards also means ‘near, close to or closer to’ as you have in these examples:

  • She was sitting towards the back.
  • The security was standing towards the exit.
  • My license will expire towards the end of the month.
  • Towards the raining season, certain ailments appear.
  • New faces dotted the landscape of the school towards the competition.

Towards

Still on towards, let us see more definitions…

This preposition also means ‘in relation to…’ This could be someone or something as you have in these examples:

  • What are your feelings towards him?
  • The man was generous towards her.
  • They were indifferent towards the situation.

Furthermore, towards means ‘getting closer to achieving a goal’. It has the sense of ‘with the aim to achieve’ or ‘in order to achieve’. For instance:

  • North Korea is working towards denuclearisation.
  • The UN is working towards ameliorating the Israel-Palestine face off.
  • Every country should be working towards a crime-free society.
  • Lagos State is working towards round-the-clock electricity.

Finally, towards means ‘for the purpose or use of, as a contribution to, to assist, to support or promote’. See the following examples:

  • She has been saving towards building a house.
  • We are saving money towards going for a holiday.
  • Many people are not planning towards retirement.
  • The organisation gave funds towards the feeding of internally displaced persons.
  • The governor provided monetary assistance towards building a community hospital.
  • Some church members offered to raise money towards hosting a successful convention.

Difference Between Toward and Towards

To answer this, I will give you some experts’ opinions. Jane Mairs, Director of English language Learning Publishing for Webster’s Learner’s Dictionary believes that toward and towards are completely interchangeable and the choice of which to use is entirely up to the user.  He submitted:

As prepositions, they are followed by nouns or noun phrases

Toward vs. Towards – How to Use Each Correctly

What’s the Difference Between Toward and Towards?

Toward and towards are both primarily prepositions that mean in the direction of. However, which spelling a person uses depends on if they use American English or British English.

Toward is the preferred American spelling.

  • She is driving toward California from New York.

Towards is the preferred British spelling.

  • He looked towards the direction of London.

Let’s practice a few ways you can use these words correctly in both varieties of English.

Using Toward in a Sentence

When to use toward: Toward usually acts as a preposition, but on rare occasions it can appear as an adjective. As a preposition it means in the direction of, for a certain purpose, near, facing, or in regards to.

For example,

  • He pulled his pig toward the shed. (first definition)
  • She’s putting the money from her job toward her college tuition. (second definition)
  • My house is at the bottom of the hill, toward the riverbend. (third definition)
  • The lion turned toward the zoo keeper. (fourth definition)
  • The student’s behavior toward the teachers is very aggressive. (fifth definition)
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Initially, towards was more common in American English. However, around the year 1900 toward surpassed towards in American usage. This fits in with the trend for American English to eliminate letters in order to make a word shorter or to reduce the amount of unnecessary letters.

Using Towards in a Sentence

When to use towards: Towards has all the same definitions as toward. However, this is the preferred spelling in British English.

For example:

  • The robber moved towards her victim.
  • The man tanning on the beach turned towards the sunlight.

Although towards has been more common than toward in British English for a long time, etymologists have found that both spellings of this word are very old. However, toward did appear before towards.

Remembering Toward vs. Towards

Although both of these words are correct, it is still a good idea to use the preferred spelling for your country or your audience.

To remember which word is more common for American versus British English, it can help to remember that American English often has simplified versions of the British spelling, meaning the word has fewer letters. This is the case for toward and towards, since the Americans prefer the word with one less letter.

Outside Examples

  • With the storm barreling toward the United States, officials in Florida ordered an unprecedented evacuation, racing to overcome clogged highways, gasoline shortages and move elderly residents to safety. –New York Post
  • Irma — at one time the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the open Atlantic — left more than 20 people dead across the Caribbean as it steamed toward the U.S. –Denver Post
  • It started the very first night, after all the opening ceremonies kept pushing the start of Maria Sharapova vs. Simona Halep towards 8 o’clock. –New York Daily News
  • As the bottom half of the draw churned towards the final it was clear there was an opportunity for some player to step up and Anderson took the bait. –USA Today

Quiz: Toward vs. Towards

Instructions: Fill in the blank with the correct word, either toward or towards, in the correct form.

  • Even though it is an eclipse, do not look directly _____________ the sun, even if you are in Tennessee, or somewhere else in the path of totality.
  • Your attitude ____________ your mum is appalling! No British lad should treat his parents so disrespectfully!
  • No, I won’t buy you a gift on July 4th for Independence Day! If you want to buy that telescope, put some of your money from your chores ____________ that purchase.
  • May I ask you to hand me my mobile phone? It is over there _____________ the telly, underneath the Union Jack.

Toward vs. Towards: What’s the Difference?

The words toward and towards can cause a bit of confusion and unease in people’s writing because not many of us are sure when to use which one. Are these just variants of the same word? Do they have different meanings or different functions within a sentence?

In today’s post, I want to address each of these questions so that you will never again have to second-guess yourself while writing either of these words. So, what is the difference between toward vs. towards?

What is the Difference Between Toward and Towards

Toward and towards are both prepositions, meaning in the direction of, in a position facing, with regard to; in relation to, or in furtherance or partial fulfillment of.

For example,

  • We are driving toward the mall.
  • His was sitting with his back was towards me, so I couldn’t see his face.
  • I am optimistic toward the newly elected president.
  • We are saving our money to go towards spring break.
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You’re probably still wondering, “Okay, when do I know which one to use?”

The answer to that question is simple: the difference between toward and towards is entirely regional preference. There is no demonstrable difference of sense or function between them, meaning both words can be used interchangeably.

When to Use Toward

Toward (without the –s) is the preferred choice in American English. If you find yourself writing to an American audience in an American newspaper or magazine, toward is the best spelling to use. The AP Stylebook and The Chicago Manual of Style both advise American English writers to use toward.

Canadian English speakers also generally use toward without the –s at a higher rate than towards.

When to Use Towards

Towards (with the –s) is the preferred choice in British English and Australian English. The popular British usage guide Fowler’s estimates the ratio to be 9:1 in favor of towards vs. toward. Still, both words are used frequently in each community, but there is a clear and identifiable preference for one over the other in each region.

  • American writers prefer toward.
  • British English writers prefer towards.

In his book Garner’s Modern English Usage, Bryan Garner states that toward has been preferred in American English since around the year 1900. In British English, towards has always been the predominant form.

Remember the Difference

A good way to remember which one of these words to use and when is that toward with no –s is American. American also has no –s in it.

Towards with an –s is British, and British has an –s in it.

Other Directional Words

Toward vs. Towards

Some English writers feel uneasy with using the words toward and towards and are often unsure of how to use them in a sentence properly. It is understandable if you are also wondering whether these two terms have different meanings and functions or they are just variants of the same word.

Amidst the confusion, toward and towards are actually the same in meaning and use. They are both prepositions that mean “in the direction of.” Below are examples of toward used in this manner.

  • “Avaya says bankruptcy is a step toward software and services”
    PCWorld
  • “Toward a ‘smart’ patch that automatically delivers insulin when needed”
    Science Daily
  • “Thanks to Trump, the Doomsday Clock Advances Toward Midnight”
    New York Times

Here are examples of towards used in the same way.

  1. “Towards a feminist United Nations: a six-point agenda for the new SG”
    Open Democracy
  2. “Free trade commitment would blaze a trail towards growth, says FCA boss”
    Belfast Telegraph
  3. “Early onset of winter triggers evolution towards smaller snow voles in Graubünden”
    Science Daily

These terms may also be used as a preposition meaning “as regards” or “in relation to.” Below are examples of toward used in this manner.

  • “Trump’s attitudes toward the EU and NATO could lead to ‘unprecedented changes in US foreign policy'”
    Business Insider
  • “Likud minister: Trump could edge Palestinians toward peace”
    Times of Israel
  • “Path of patience toward North Korea”
    Christian Science Monitor

Here are examples of towards used in the same manner.

  1. “Donald Trump must look into policy of US towards Afghanistan & Pakistan”
    Economic Times
  2. “Rethinking Our Attitude Towards ‘Problem Children’”
    Forward
  3. “Employers ‘must change attitudes towards dress code discrimination’”
    CIPD

While the two words are interchangeable, you may have to consider the audience when using toward and towards in your writing. American and Canadian English speakers generally prefer toward

When to Use Towards or Toward

In a famous saying that has been widely attributed to British writer George Bernard Shaw, it has been said that the United States and Great Britain are 'two countries separated by a common language.' There is no evidence Shaw ever actually said this, but whatever its origin, the statement has struck a nerve, highlighting the sometimes frustrating differences between American and British English.

See also:  Why do we ‘drive home’ but ‘drive to work’?

Some of the differences are obvious, such as how an 'elevator' in America is a 'lift' in Britain, but others are more subtle and confusing. One example of this is the difference between 'toward' and 'towards'.

Toward and Towards

'Toward' and 'towards' are both variants of the same word. It is a preposition, which shows connections between words in a sentence, and it means 'in the direction of.' Many people will argue that 'towards' is the more formal or proper form of the word, and 'toward' is the slang version. Other people argue just the opposite.

The truth is that most experts on grammar and usage agree that neither is more formal or correct than the other.

The only difference seems to be that 'toward' is more often used in American and Canadian English and 'towards' is more often used in Great Britain and other English-speaking countries outside of North America.

However, there are plenty of exceptions even to this rule, as you will often see 'toward' used in British publications and vice versa.

Basically, the difference between 'toward' and 'towards' is the same as the difference between 'elevator' and 'lift'. Neither is more 'correct', it just depends on where you're at.

Usage

So how do you use both 'toward' and 'towards'? As mentioned above, it is a preposition that is used to indicate direction. Let's look at it in a couple of sentences. First, let's see the American usage, 'toward':

  • I walked toward the front door.
  • Sally threw the ball toward Jane.
  • The dog ran toward the ball.

Now here are those same sentences with the British usage, 'towards':

  • I walked towards the front door.
  • Sally threw the ball towards Jane.
  • The dog ran towards the ball.

You can see that the meaning of the word is clear in both, and neither is more 'formal' than the other.

Toward vs. towards

Toward and towards are equally acceptable forms of the word primarily meaning in the direction of. Other than the s at the end, there is no difference between them.

 Some people differentiate the two words in various ways, but these preferences are not borne out in the usage of most English speakers.

Neither form is more formal or informal or more or less logical than the other (the Oxford English Dictionary says towards is more colloquial in British English, but we see no evidence that this is true in 21st-century British writing), so you’re safe using the one that sounds better to you.

But while both these directional words are used in all varieties of English, toward is preferred in American and Canadian English, while towards is preferred in varieties of English from outside North America. These are not rules, however, and exceptions are easily found.

History

Toward is the older form. It comes from the Old English tóweard, which meant roughly the same as our modern toward.

1 Towards is also old, however, as for many centuries the suffixes –ward and –wards have been more or less interchangeable and have given rise to parallel forms of many words—for example, backward and backwards, and forward and forwards.

2 Towards became the dominant form in the 17th century and remained ascendant until the Americans took up toward in the 19th century.

This ngram, which graphs the use of toward and towards (as a percentage of all words used) in a large number of British books and periodicals published from 1800 to 2000, shows that the latter has been heavily favored through modern times, though toward might now be gaining ground.

And the next ngram shows the words’ use in American books and periodicals from the same period. It shows that the transition from the now more British towards to the now more North American toward occurred around 1900.

Examples

American and Canadian publications prefer toward, as used in these examples:

  • Scientists are moving toward the conclusion that the eastern cougar was erroneously classified as a separate subspecies in the first place. [NY Times]

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