Toward vs. Towards: What’s the Difference?

Marcus Froland

English is a tricky language, full of small details that can trip up even the most diligent learner. One such detail lies in the use of toward and towards. At first glance, these words seem interchangeable, mere variations of each other depending on one’s mood or preference. But is that really all there is to it?

The truth is, understanding the nuances between toward and towards can shed light on how flexible and diverse the English language truly is. It might not seem like a big deal, but this tiny difference could be the key to sounding more like a native speaker. So, what exactly sets them apart?

The main difference between ‘toward’ and ‘towards’ lies in their usage in different forms of English. In American English, people prefer using ‘toward’ without the ‘s’ at the end. On the other hand, British English speakers are more likely to add an ‘s’, making it ‘towards’. However, this is not a strict rule. Both versions mean the same thing and can be used to talk about moving in the direction of something or someone. The choice between them often comes down to personal preference or regional habit. So, no matter which one you use, your meaning will be clear.

The Meaning of Toward and Towards

As prepositions that convey movement or direction, the terms toward and towards are interchangeable. Both of these words indicate the trajectory toward a point, object, or goal, and have their roots in the Old English word toweard, which signified “in the direction of.” Though the form has evolved over time, the essential meaning remains consistent, irrespective of the presence or absence of the final ‘s’.

Understanding the definition of toward and the use of towards is crucial for proper preposition usage and mastering direction words. Let’s evaluate the various contexts in which these words can be employed to convey different meanings in sentences.

  1. Physical direction: These words describe the movement of a person or object closer to a specific location or destination. For instance, “She walked toward the park” or “The dog ran towards its owner.”
  2. Abstract direction: They also express goals, aims, or attitudes. Examples include, “He worked hard toward achieving his dreams” or “Her attitude towards the project was positive.”
  3. Time progression: In some instances, toward and towards can be utilized to indicate progression through time. For example, “The event was planned for the weekend, and as the days moved toward it, everyone got more excited” or “As the deadline drew towards, the team hurried to finish the project.”

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity.” – Albert Einstein

In summary, whether you choose to use toward or towards in your speech and writing ultimately depends on your personal preference or regional dialect. Nevertheless, it is vital to understand that their meanings are identical and that they can both be employed for various purposes, including describing physical direction, abstract goals, and time progression.

Exploring the Etymology of Toward(s)

To truly understand the origins and the seemingly interchangeable use of ‘toward’ and ‘towards’, it’s crucial to examine their Old English roots and the evolution of the spelling in the Middle English period.

The Origins in Old English

The story of ‘toward’ and ‘towards’ began in the 9th century when these two prepositions emerged from the fusion of the word ‘to’ with the directional suffix ‘-weard’. This Old English suffix indicated direction, specifically in relation to a point, object, or goal. The adverb toweards came to be by simply adding an adverbial genitive ‘s’ to toweard. It’s noteworthy that early records showed usage of both forms, with and without the final ‘s’.

Related:  "Deem Fit": Meaning, Usage, and Examples

The Influence of Middle English on Spelling Variations

As the language transitioned into the Middle English period, variations in the spelling of ‘toward’ began to emerge. Notable authors, such as Geoffrey Chaucer, used both forms interchangeably, even before the standardization of English spelling. This long-standing ambiguity in usage predates modern standardization efforts and continues to be present in contemporary English.

“Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote, The droghte of March hath perced to the roote, And bathed every veyne in swich licóur, Of which vertú engendred is the flour;…”

The above quote is an example from Chaucer’s famous work, The Canterbury Tales, where he uses the word ‘to’ followed by the suffix ‘-ward’ for indicating direction. This use is present in various Middle English texts and has contributed to the historical usage patterns observed in the English language today.

Regional Preferences in English Usage

In the diverse world of English, regional differences and spelling preferences contribute to various English usage variations. The usage of ‘toward’ and ‘towards’ serves as a prime example, with contrasting preferences between American and British English.

While American English speakers frequently use both ‘toward’ and ‘towards’ interchangeably, ‘toward’ is generally considered the preferred form in the United States. In contrast, British English speakers commonly lean toward the use of ‘towards’. The absence of a significant etymological explanation for favoring one spelling over the other may be at the heart of these regional preferences.

Consider the following examples of sentences with ‘toward’ and ‘towards’:

He walked towards the door with a smile on his face.
She reached toward the top shelf to grab a book.

English speakers from different regions would understand both sentences without confusion, regardless of the choice between ‘toward’ and ‘towards’.

Let’s explore a list of some countries and their general preference for either ‘toward’ or ‘towards’:

Country Preferred Form
United States Toward
United Kingdom Towards
Canada Toward
Australia Towards
New Zealand Towards

These regional preferences also extend to other prepositions with similar English usage variations, such as ‘forward’ vs. ‘forwards’ and ‘backward’ vs. ‘backwards’.

‘Toward’ and ‘towards’ demonstrate the rich diversity of spelling preferences and English usage across various regions. Understanding these nuances allows us to better appreciate the flexibility of the English language, fostering greater communication and connection among its diverse speakers worldwide.

Comparing American English and British English Usage

In both American and British English, the usage of ‘toward’ and ‘towards’ shows variation and adherence to regional preferences. While historical usage indicates that both terms were common among English writers and speakers, more recent trends suggest a growing standardization in the preferred choice between these two prepositions.

Stance of American Style Guides on Toward vs. Towards

American English style guides tend to favor the use of ‘toward’ over ‘towards.’ For instance, The Chicago Manual of Style and The AP Stylebook recommend using ‘toward’ in American English. However, historical usage by authoritative English writers has included both ‘toward’ and ‘towards.’

Since the late 19th century, American writers have slowly shifted towards using ‘toward,’ suggesting a cultural standardization. This shift indicates that the regional preference has become more established over time, though both forms are still considered correct.

British English and Its Consistency with Towards

In British English, ‘towards’ is the more popular choice for a preposition. This preference has not historically been as strongly emphasized in the UK as in the US, with British English only more recently showing a consistent trend towards using ‘towards.’ However, as with American English, both ‘toward’ and ‘towards’ are considered acceptable.

Related:  'Good to Hear' or 'Glad to Hear': Which Is Correct?

While style guides in the UK may not explicitly recommend ‘towards’ over ‘toward,’ this regional preference is evident in the consistent usage of ‘towards’ in British literature, journalism, and everyday speech.

He walked towards the door, ready to leave. (British English)
She moved toward the window to get a better view. (American English)

As demonstrated in these examples, the only difference between the prepositions is the presence or absence of the final ‘s.’ Across both American and British English, the meaning and function of ‘toward’ and ‘towards’ remain consistent.

Grammatical Role of Toward and Towards

The words ‘toward’ and ‘towards’ are more than just spelling variations; they both serve essential grammatical roles in sentences. Their primary function is as prepositions, but they can also work as directional adverbs on occasion. Let’s explore the grammatical roles of these two words and their consistent meanings.

  1. Prepositional RoleAs prepositions, ‘toward’ and ‘towards’ are responsible for showing a relationship between two entities, typically between a noun and a verb. They convey movement or direction towards a specific point, object, or goal. For example:

    She walked toward the park to meet her friends.

    He was driving towards the city for a job interview.

    In both sentences, the words ‘toward’ and ‘towards’ interact as prepositions showing movement or direction.

  2. Directional AdverbsAlthough less common, ‘toward’ and ‘towards’ can occasionally function as directional adverbs within a sentence. In this role, they can modify a verb to indicate a particular direction. For instance:

    The wind blew toward the north, carrying the scent of flowers with it.

    They sailed towards the sunset, leaving their old lives behind.

    In these examples, ‘toward’ and ‘towards’ are acting as adverbs modifying the direction of the verbs ‘blew’ and ‘sailed,’ respectively.

Both ‘toward’ and ‘towards’ can function effectively in their respective grammatical roles, regardless of the minor spelling difference. Across centuries of linguistic usage, grammarians have recognized and acknowledged their interchangeable use. So, whether you prefer the American English ‘toward’ or the British English ‘towards,’ both forms are suitable and grammatically correct.

Common Usage in Modern Writing and Speech

In both literature and everyday conversations, the use of toward and towards remains prevalent. This showcases how regional preferences and linguistic diversity continue to shape the English language.

Toward and Towards in Literature

Throughout the history of English literature, authors have employed both toward and towards in their works. Many famous novelists from the past, such as Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and Ernest Hemingway, have included both spellings in their texts. Even contemporary authors, like Stephen King and J.K. Rowling, demonstrate a lack of rigid rules attached to these terms, using them interchangeably in their writings.

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. Winston Smith, his chin nuzzled into his breast in an effort to escape the vile wind, slipped quickly through the glass doors of Victory Mansions, though not quickly enough to prevent a swirl of gritty dust from entering along with him. – 1984, George Orwell

In the above excerpt from George Orwell’s 1984, you can notice the use of the word towards as he describes Winston Smith’s movement.

Understanding Style Guide Recommendations

Various style guides offer advice on the use of toward and towards based on regional standards and historical usage patterns. American English guides, such as The Chicago Manual of Style and The AP Stylebook, typically lean towards the usage of toward, reflecting the regional preference for American writers.

British English style guides, on the other hand, might suggest the use of towards. However, these recommendations should not be viewed as strict rules, but rather as helpful suggestions tailored to specific regions or writing contexts. Fundamentally, the understanding across both American and British English circles is one of flexibility and interchangeability in most contexts.

  1. The Chicago Manual of Style: Prefers toward in American English.
  2. The AP Stylebook: Advises the use of toward in American English.
  3. Guardian and Observer Style Guide: Suggests using towards in British English contexts.

As a writer or speaker, you should feel free to choose the form of the word that best suits your intended audience, regional preference, or personal writing style, knowing that both toward and towards are acceptable in modern writing and speech.

Is There a Correct Choice Between Toward and Towards?

When it comes to choosing between toward and towards, there is no definitive rule that demands one form over the other. Both variations are grammatically correct and their usage primarily depends on regional preferences, personal inclinations, or adherence to a particular style guide. This acceptance of both spellings can be observed in written and spoken language across English-speaking countries, such as the United States and the United Kingdom.

Despite these differences, some general trends emerge in various regions. For instance, American English tends to favor the use of toward, whereas British English leans more towards the spelling towards. Nevertheless, these preferences should not be considered strict rules that must be adhered to in every situation. As a writer or speaker, you have the flexibility to choose the form that best suits your needs, based on your audience and personal style.

Both ‘toward’ and ‘towards’ are correct, and the choice is often down to regional usage, personal preference, or adherence to a style guide.

It is also crucial to note that certain style guides recommend using one form over the other. For example, The Chicago Manual of Style and The AP Stylebook generally endorse the use of toward in American English. However, if you are writing for a British audience or following the guidelines of a UK-based publication, you may wish to abide by their recommendations and use towards instead.

  1. American English: Lean towards using toward.
  2. British English: Opt for using towards.

Ultimately, the choice between toward and towards is a matter of preference and context. So, whether you find yourself writing an academic paper, penning a novel, or engaging in everyday conversation, feel free to use the form of the word that feels most natural and fitting for your situation, keeping your audience’s language preference in mind.

Conclusion: Embracing Variations in the English Language

As explored throughout the article, the English language is rich with diverse spellings and usage. The prepositional debate between ‘toward’ and ‘towards’ highlights this variation, demonstrating how regional preferences and personal choices come into play. By recognizing these differences and accepting the fluidity of language, we can better appreciate the nuances and intricacies of English.

Regardless of writing in American English or British English, both ‘toward’ and ‘towards’ are correct, and the ultimate decision boils down to your audience, regional inclinations, or adherence to a specific style guide. Understanding these linguistic differences expands our knowledge and promotes effective communication, without getting bogged down in rigid rules.

In conclusion, the unique variations in the English language, such as the use of ‘toward’ or ‘towards,’ demonstrate its adaptability and flexibility over time. By embracing these differences and acknowledging the various factors influencing usage, we can truly appreciate the rich history and complexities of the English language.

You May Also Like: