Is it Correct to Say “Backwards”?

Marcus Froland

Have you ever found yourself in a conversation, confidently using words that feel right, only to later discover there’s a debate about their correctness? It’s like walking on linguistic eggshells. The English language is full of these tricky terms and phrases that make even the most seasoned speakers pause. Today, we’re tackling one such word that often slips off our tongues without a second thought: “backwards”. Is it just a casual slip or are we onto something grammatically solid?

It might seem like a small detail in the vast ocean of English linguistics, but this word carries more weight than you’d think. It’s not just about correctness; it’s about understanding the nuances that shape our language and how they affect our daily communication. So, before you use it again in your next sentence or scribble it down in an email, let’s shed some light on this linguistic puzzle. The answer might surprise you and change the way you view other seemingly straightforward words.

In English, both “backwards” and “backward” are correct. The choice between them depends on where you are or who you’re talking to. In the United States, people usually say “backward”. For example, “He took a step backward.” However, in the United Kingdom, it’s more common to hear “backwards”, as in “She looked backwards.” Both forms mean the same thing: moving or facing towards the back. So, whether you use “backwards” or “backward” can depend on your location or personal preference.

Understanding “Backward” and “Backwards” in American English

When it comes to using backward and backwards in American English, it’s essential to understand their definitions and correct usage. Both words indicate a direction opposite to the front or a return to an earlier state, but their usage in grammar and context might not always be interchangeable.

In American English, the standard form for both adjectives and adverbs is backward. This preference is consistent with American grammar conventions, making it easier for readers in the United States to process and understand your writing. To gain a better grasp of these words in different contexts, let’s take a look at some examples of their usage in sentences.

She looked over her shoulder and started walking backward towards the door.

The old computer system was quite a bit more backward than the current technology on the market.

Despite their many attempts to move forward, the organization seemed to be moving backward in terms of progress.

As you can see from these examples, backward is used to describe both a physical motion in the reverse direction and a lack of progress or development. It’s important to note that, although backwards can be found in informal speech or casual writing, following the American English preference for using backward in both adjective and adverb forms helps maintain clarity and uniformity in your writing.

  1. Physical motion: He rode the bicycle backward down the hill.
  2. Lack of progress: The bureaucracy was causing the project to go backward instead of moving forward.
  3. Social skills: Due to his isolation, the young man’s social skills were somewhat backward.

Following American English grammar rules and using backward as both an adjective and an adverb ensures that a wide range of readers will be able to understand your writing. Keep this in mind as you craft sentences that convey your ideas effectively, and you will ultimately create more engaging and accessible content for your audience.

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The Preference for “Backward” as an Adjective

When it comes to using “backward” or “backwards” as an adjective, the grammatical standards clearly favor “backward,” especially in American English. In this section, we’ll explore the stance of language experts and examine the usage of “backwards” in informal speech and casual writing.

What the Experts Say

Garner’s Modern English Usage, a reputable source for language guidelines, supports the use of “backward” as an adjective. Along with this expert reference, there are very few instances of “backwards” being used as an adjective in both American and British literature.

“Backward” – adjective: directed or turned toward the back or the rear; of or relating to the past; regressive.

So, when it comes to proper writing, “backward” is the accepted form in both American and British English. Despite the occasional misuse of “backwards” online, it is highly recommended to stick to “backward” when crafting your text.

“Backwards” in Informal Contexts

While “backward” is universally accepted as an adjective, “backwards” does find its way into casual communication, such as in informal speech and writing. However, it is important to distinguish between formal and informal writing. For more formal contexts, it’s best to adhere to the established grammatical practice of using “backward” to describe something relating to the past or regressive, especially in American English.

  1. Informal: “These shoes are causing me to walk backwards.”
  2. Formal: “These policies seem to be a backward step for the economy.”

It is very important to follow the rules of grammar and the opinions of experts when writing for any audience, not just Americans. Simply using “backward” as an adjective will help you communicate clearly and accurately.

“Backward” vs. “Backwards” as Adverbs

When it comes to adverb choice in American and British English, the distinction between “backward” and “backwards” is evident. While both adverbs are acceptable, each English variant has its preferred usage.

In American English, the adverb “backward” is more commonly used. Many U.S. publications and writers tend to stick with this form, ensuring consistency across their texts. For example:

She fell backward into the chair.

On the other hand, the British preference leans towards using “backwards” as an adverb. British publications and authors often opt for this form:

He accidentally stepped backwards into a puddle.

Based on usage rates, “backwards” appears approximately 1.7 times more often in British contexts, while “backward” is almost three times as commonly found in American texts. This difference in usage can be attributed to the nuances of the respective English dialects.

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To avoid confusion, it’s essential to be aware of these preferences. Here’s a comparison to help you understand how “backward” and “backwards” are used as adverbs in American and British English:

  1. American English: “She moved backward in the crowd.”
  2. British English: “He glanced backwards with a frown.”

When writing for a specific audience, you should consider their preferences and ensure you’re using the appropriate form. Keep in mind these differences to effectively communicate your message and maintain credibility with your readers.

American English vs. British English: A Comparative Overview

Linguistic comparisons between American and British English reveal noteworthy differences in vocabulary, grammar, and spelling. In the case of adverb usage, “backward” and “backwards” offer a prime instance of regional variation. While there is some crossover between the two forms, they predominantly adhere to their respective geographic preferences.

Consistency Across the Pond

American speakers are inclined to use “backward” as both an adjective and an adverb, conforming to the conservative and customary choice in their linguistic community. On the other hand, British speakers show a particular preference for “backwards” as an adverb, reserving “backward” for adjectives.

“American English leans toward using ‘backward’ for both adjective and adverb functions, whereas British English prefers ‘backwards’ for adverbs but sticks with ‘backward’ for adjectives.”

This preference for “backwards” in adverbial contexts illustrates the general breadth of linguistic variation between American and British English. Although both versions of English remain intelligible to one another, the subtle nuances in usage further emphasize the distinctiveness of their respective regional styles.

  1. American English: “She took a step backward.”
  2. British English: “She took a step backwards.”

When communicating with speakers from different cultures, respecting these linguistic preferences can lead to more authentic and engaging interactions. There is an inherent beauty in the diversity of language, which should be appreciated by learners and native speakers alike.

Common Examples of “Backward” and “Backwards” in Literature and Media

One can find examples of “backward” and “backwards” usage in both literary works and media sources. The choice of using either word largely depends on the linguistic preferences of the author or the publication, often aligning with the American or British language conventions. Let’s take a closer look at how these terms are used in different contexts.

Forbes and The Portland Tribune, both American publications, frequently use “backward” in their articles. This choice reflects the standard preference for American English. In similar fashion, British publications such as The Mirror and Arabian Business tend to use “backwards”, showcasing the British English tendencies.

He walked backward through the dense fog, struggling to see where he was going. – American English (Literary Example)

She glanced over her shoulder and continued walking backwards down the hallway. – British English (Literary Example)

  1. The New York Times (American): “…the country risks slipping backward if the Biden administration does not fight for this agenda.”
  2. The Guardian (British): “Moving backwards on corporate transparency will undermine international efforts to fight corruption.”

Despite the mentioned regional preferences, it is essential to keep in mind that these terms can be context-dependent and are not restricted solely based on geographical location. However, the established linguistic patterns in American and British English provide a basis for understanding the usage of “backward” and “backwards” across literature and media.

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How “Backward/Backwards” Reflects on Social and Technological Progress

The phrases “backward” and “backwards” frequently appear in discussions about social progress and technological development. These terms expertly illustrate the dynamic nature of advancement and regression in modern society.

The Figurative Use in Describing Progress or Regress

While “backward” and “backwards” most commonly refer to physical or spatial movements, their importance in figurative language is undeniable. When used metaphorically, they convey either movements toward innovation or stances that hinder advancement. Consider the following examples:

Environmentalists argue that the politicians are taking us backwards on climate change policy.

The rapid growth in telecommunication technology has brought us from a backward state to a fully-connected global community.

In both instances, “backward” and “backwards” are used to describe evolving perspectives and policies in various sectors such as education, healthcare, and industries. Analyzing the use of these terms in these contexts has a significant impact on understanding public opinion and the direction of societal change.

Some key areas where “backward” and “backwards” might be applied to social progress and technological development include:

  • Assessments of a country’s political and economic policies;
  • Evaluations of social norms and cultural traditions;
  • Insights into technological breakthroughs;
  • Measurement of advancements in research and development in various industries.

These examples highlight the importance of understanding the nuanced meanings of “backward” and “backwards” when discussing complex, fast-paced topics like social progress and technological development. Recognizing how these words contribute to the broader conversation can provide context for understanding the global trajectory of society and technology.

Best Practices When Writing for an American Audience

When writing for an American audience, it’s essential to understand their linguistic preferences and meet their expectations. One such aspect is deciding between “backward” and “backwards” as both an adjective and an adverb. Using the proper form can significantly impact the way your work is perceived and its effectiveness in communicating your message.

To adhere to grammar guidelines and ensure you maintain consistency and clarity in your writing, it is advised to choose “backward” as both an adjective and an adverb in American English. This preference is in line with American linguistic conventions, making your content more appealing and familiar to the target readers.

Be mindful of the various connotations that the selection of “backward” or “backwards” can carry in different contexts. In American English, using “backward” presents a standard and generally accepted approach, whereas “backwards” might draw attention as an informal variant. By understanding these nuances, you can connect with your American audience more effectively, making your writing more engaging and persuasive, ultimately strengthening your position as a professional copywriter.

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