Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

In this question we learn that toward and towards are interchangeable, but that the former is somewhat more typical of U.S. English and the latter of British English, although there is some indication that this does not always hold true.

But how about actual use? Being a non-native speaker, I cannot completely trust my intuition about what "sounds right". Is it true that toward sounds more formal than towards to a native English speaker? Does it vary between different variants of English? Should I use one in academic text and the other in casual communication? What are the nuances? In summary, how should I choose which one to use if I want to be consistent in my writing style? I'm looking for intuition for different kinds of situations.

share|improve this question
    
"how should I choose" - I'd say it's a matter of ear... what "sounds right", if you will. –  user730 Dec 15 '10 at 18:00
2  
That's what I'm after – since I'm not a native speaker I cannot completely trust what "sounds right". I'll update the question a little bit to make this explicit. –  Fabian Fagerholm Dec 15 '10 at 18:01
4  
HarperCollins says that towards is the American variant of toward. American Heritage dictionary says the exact opposite: answers.com/topic/toward. I don't think anyone has a clue! My guess is that it is free-variation. –  Kosmonaut Dec 15 '10 at 18:27
    
FWIW, I'm a native speaker from the US and if I use toward it's by accident. I generally use towards. –  aaronasterling Dec 15 '10 at 19:05
3  
I don't know if it's possible to answer this any further than the original question was answered. –  Marthaª Dec 15 '10 at 19:11
show 2 more comments

6 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Right - American English favors "toward," and UK standard tends to add an 's.'

This also applies to "forward," "backward," etc. These are explained in more detail by Fowler, Merriam-Websters Dictionary of English Usage, et al.

share|improve this answer
    
I tend to agree with this answer. As a native speaker of British English, I find that I rarely use toward. –  yorksensei Feb 25 '11 at 0:05
add comment

It seems that since the two are interchangeable you can pick one you like better and use it. I doubt a native speaker will even notice. Try to be consistent, I guess. Or, if you'd rather fit in as much as possible, try to listen to the people around you and imitate them. But for this one word you might have a hard time finding out if you're with a bunch of '-s' using people or not.

share|improve this answer
add comment

I'm a Canadian and I use them both interchangeably. I would have to spend a lot of time trying to find a usage pattern, but each of the variants has places where it seems to fit naturally and places where it just sounds wrong. It could be that we spoke the Queen's English at home (along with French) and watched mostly American television, or it could simply be that a particular variant got associated with various phrases in common use locally, in the television and movies I watched and in the literature I read.

share|improve this answer
    
Are there some examples? –  Anixx Feb 24 '12 at 6:28
add comment

Let's quote here the “Word note” about this issue in the New Oxford American Dictionary:

toward, towards: It might seem pedantic to point out that toward is the correct U.S. spelling and towards is British. On the other hand, so many writers at all levels seem ignorant of the difference that always using toward is a costless, unpretentious way to signal your fluency in American English. It's the same with gray (U.S.) and grey (Brit.), though many Americans have been using these two interchangeably for so long that some U.S. dictionaries now list grey as a passable variant. This is not likely to happen with toward/towards, though—at least not in our lifetimes.


It is followed by a note: “Conversational, opinionated, and idiomatic, these Word Notes are an opportunity to see a working writer's perspective on a particular word or usage.”

share|improve this answer
    
I am going to have to disagree somewhat with this "word note". Gray and grey are pronounced the same, whereas towards and toward are not. That is, Americans use grey because they never learned to spell it properly, and anyone could easily change this. However, they use towards because their use it in speech. It is much harder to change your spoken English than spelling, and in this case I see no reason for anybody to do so; towards isn't stigmatized, unlike using ain't or using drug instead of dragged. –  Peter Shor Feb 24 '12 at 13:00
add comment

As a native speaker of british english, to me, 'towards' implies motion - so I would probably use them like this:

"He faced toward the house"
"He walked towards the house"

only adding the 's' when associated with a verb that includes movement. I don't know if that's correct in any official sense, but that is how I would use them in ordinary speech.

share|improve this answer
2  
To me, this appears like a completely unused distinction. I know it's always tempting to make the sand of language ever finer when there are variants meaning the same thing, but perhaps not at the extra expense of unnecessary complication to a non-native speaker. –  Joe453 Feb 23 '11 at 11:55
    
@Joe453 that's a good point - this distinction is largely irrelevant, and I wouldn't worry about it at all as a non native speaker. On the other hand, I'm learning a second language, and I love learning little (unimportant) details like this myself - just for fun :). –  Benubird Feb 23 '11 at 14:25
    
I found this answer tempting as well but searching BNC the top ten collocations (attitude, move, step, turned, etc.) are pretty much the same for both words. Towards wins out in frequency by more than 10:1 over toward. –  z7sg Ѫ Jun 15 '11 at 1:48
add comment

Toward is chosen in print publications over towards, because it's shorter.

I don't think either choice is more formal than the other. I probably wouldn't even hear any difference between the two.

I'd say it's a non-issue. Use whichever one you like, or go the newspaper route and use toward.

share|improve this answer
3  
Do you have evidence that one is chosen because it is shorter? The word "towards" is used in a large number of news articles. –  Kosmonaut Dec 15 '10 at 19:38
1  
When I worked for my college newspaper, that was the rationale given for a lot of style decisions, but I don't have a citation for you or anything. (But I could give a zillion examples, like dropping conjunctions in headlines and avoiding the Oxford comma.) That's just a rule of thumb I picked up working there. I know that the AP Stylebook mandates toward over towards. –  Joshua Karstendick Dec 15 '10 at 22:42
    
@Joshua: Maybe the toward>towards rule is not a universal one, or maybe it is falling out of use. In any case, your central point stands, which is that there is no obvious grammatical reason to choose one over the other. This newspaper rule is completely an economical one. –  Kosmonaut Dec 16 '10 at 0:48
1  
In Britain hearing "towards" is far more common, moreover searching the BBC News website with google gives ~4,000 hits for "toward" and ~70,000 hits for "towards". –  psmears Jan 16 '11 at 16:39
    
@psmears: BBC News may have a style sheet saying "Always use towards." –  Peter Shor Jun 15 '11 at 3:58
show 1 more comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.