Can backward and forward be used interchangeably with backwards and forwards, or is there some particular situation in which one pair is consistently used over the other?

  • The first pair is American English; the second pair is British English.
    – user21497
    Mar 30, 2013 at 14:45
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    @BillFranke That is not true.
    – tchrist
    Mar 30, 2013 at 15:15
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    Executive summary: AmE—Use backward and forward; backwards and forwards are uncommon, and if you use them in some parts of the country you might sound like a foreigner. BrE—Use backward and forward for adjectives; backwards and forwards for adverbs. On a ship: use for'ard. I've never seen for'ards, and Oxford Dictionaries Online doesn't have it either. Mar 30, 2013 at 16:54
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    @PeterShor I’m pretty sure that a forward-thinking attitude in a backward-gazing world never have the ‑s on the ends of either of them. It seems that the directional modifiers (read: adverbs) on participial adjectives are exempt from any sort of interchangeability rule or regionalism, at least as far as I have been able to uncover.
    – tchrist
    Mar 30, 2013 at 16:57

1 Answer 1


In British English (and possibly others), backward and forward are adjectives, and backwards/forwards are adverbs.

A person may be backward1 or forward; a car may be forward of a "Stop" line; one might move something forward (that is, to a position which is forward of its current position). However, when describing that movement itself, it's forwards.

Related question: Meaning of "backwards"

1 Using backward to describe some developmental abnormality is frowned upon and not recommended. In fact, describing someone as forward is rather dated, too.

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    In AmE, we use them interchangeably. (Although backwards and forwards are less common.) Mar 30, 2013 at 15:03
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    @PeterShor So you would say that a car is forwards of a Stop line? Or simply use forward as the adverbial form? Mar 30, 2013 at 15:05
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    Given that English adverbs are usually impossible to distinguish from English adjectives in actual constructions (how many ELU questions and answers suggest that something is or isn't an adverb, and speculate on why or why not?), I suspect that the rule quoted may be more honored in the breach than the observance throughout the UK. Is there a study of UK usage? Beyond "guides", I mean -- actual linguistic surveys with data and statistics. Mar 30, 2013 at 15:12
  • In the United States, the forms are used as @PeterShor describes. Their usage here is similar to that of toward(s) and beside(s). Mar 30, 2013 at 15:17
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    @StJohnoftheCross Gosh, SJC, we're not all trolls; I'm sorry you think the downvoter would likely be from this side of the pond. I take your point, however, that the Brits don't seem to be weighing in. My above comment to you, with specific reference to AmE, however, was not ignoring your original answer; it was responding to your question to PeterShor, and you were asking about American usage. As for your original answer here, I found it excellent, and upvoted it. Mar 30, 2013 at 19:35

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