So, I've noticed over time that I see both "afterward" and "afterwards" at different times. Having a pet peeve (though I'm not certain it's actually a well-founded prejudice, lexicographically speaking) against hearing "anyways", I've started to wonder recently about "afterwards".

With a quick bit of web searching, I turned up this analysis, which I find to be somewhat helpful, I'm just wondering if there's more that people could say to help me get an intuitive understanding of when to use which, or otherwise why to use one versus the other.

I suppose (as mentioned in the linked article) this question could also apply to forward, backward, toward, etc.

Which shall I use? When? Why? Does the 's' indicate some sort of plural meaning, or something else?

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    I'd agree with the article you cite--but then again I rarely use "-wards" anyways (ha!). Here's a complicator: I once got an email from someone who, instead of using "in other words" used the neologism "anotherwards." In that case, I guess the "s" is necessary.
    – bikeboy389
    Dec 11, 2010 at 22:54
  • @bikeboy389: Oy! :)
    – lindes
    Dec 12, 2010 at 3:21
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    @bikeboy389, that sounds like a mondegreen, not a neologism.
    – Marthaª
    Dec 13, 2010 at 16:11
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    @martha: I was just acquainted with the term "eggcorn" in another thread, and I feel I would have used that, if I'd known it at the time. I'm conflicted as to whether a mondegreen and an eggcorn are the same thing. They're very close, but mondegreens seem to be more linked to verse.
    – bikeboy389
    Dec 13, 2010 at 17:18
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    Beside(s) and toward(s) in American usage here. Nov 30, 2015 at 22:11

4 Answers 4


Afterward[s]: As someone with a background in British English who has studied and lived in the US over the past four years, I would say that "afterwards" is more commonly used in the British, while "afterward" is chiefly found in American usage. To confirm this, I sampled various dictionaries online, both American and British.

However, this does not always follow for words such as "forward[s]", "backward[s]", etc. I will deal with each case separately, treating them all as adverbs:

Forward[s]: The form "forwards" is rarely ever used in today's English, whether British or American. With or without the "s", the meaning remains unchanged.

Backward[s]: Again, "backward" is chiefly American, while "backwards" is certainly almost always used in the British. (As an adjective, though, "backward" is the correct usage, never with the "s".)

Toward[s]: The form "towards" is the British usage, while "toward" is the American.

Suffixation: Of course, the suffix "-ward[s]" can be tagged onto any word to indicate direction, as in "heavenward", "landward", and so on. As a general rule, it is strictly "-ward" in all adjectives, while adverbs could be "-ward" or "-wards," depending on the user.

And no, the "s" does not indicate plurality.

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    You cannot reliably infer actual use by looking in dictionaries; you have to examine a corpus of actual use. And when you do so, you will find this is far less us-vs-them than you have presented it. Many Americans you the -s form, for example.
    – tchrist
    Apr 24, 2013 at 11:59
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    @tchrist Actually, that's exactly what dictionaries do. Contrary to popular belief, dictionaries do not indicate the correct spelling and meaning of a word, but rather the more common spelling and meaning. Or put another way, a dictionary doesn't dictate usage, it indicates it. This is also why the American Oxford and the British Oxford dictionaries don't need to agree with each other. Language is region specific.
    – OneProton
    Feb 2, 2016 at 17:56

A little research reveals that the s is not meaningless, but rather conveys the relationship between nouns in a sentence, as in 'possession (as well as other more ancient and less remembered relationships).

Ward: Old English -weard, from a Germanic base meaning ‘turn.’ The forms in -s are all remnants of the old genitive singular inflection.

English: For more details on this topic, see English possessive. Old English had a genitive case, which has left its mark in modern English in the form of the possessive ending -'s (now sometimes referred to as the "Saxon genitive"), as well as possessive pronoun forms such as his, theirs, etc., and in certain words derived from adverbial genitives such as once and afterwards. (Other Old English case markers have generally disappeared completely.) The modern English possessive forms are not normally considered to represent a grammatical case, although they are sometimes referred to as genitives or as belonging to a possessive case. One of the reasons that the status of -'s as a case ending is often rejected is that it attaches to the end of a noun phrase and not necessarily to the head noun itself, as in the king of Spain's daughter, not the king's of Spain daughter as would be expected if -'s were a case inflection on the noun king (and as was done in older forms of English).

  • I did not expect to be weighing in here... did I miss someone else's observation? -- to the effect that old documents frequently refer to "the King of Spain his daughter," or similar -- the "S" sound seemingly persisting as a verbal nod to an ancient usage... in other words, not genitive, but a contraction like wouldn't...
    – user94546
    Oct 15, 2014 at 16:05
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    I think it would be helpful to indicate how the -s on an adverb like forwards relates to the -s Saxon genitive. What does an adverb have to do with possession?
    – Andrew Leach
    Oct 15, 2014 at 18:09
  • The part about the genitive seems to be correct: etymonline.com/index.php?term=-ward . It's true that the genitive doesn't make a lot of sense logically for a form that is now only used for the adverbial forms. The genitive would be more logical for the adjectival forms. But that doesn't invalidate the etymology.
    – user16723
    Jun 26, 2016 at 20:39

Merriam-Webster has a useful article on this subject:

The word toward(s) is old: it goes back to the 9th century, where it was a blend of the word to and the suffix -weard, which was used to refer to a specific direction. If you go toward something, you etymologically move in the direction to that item. But from the earliest moment of toward's life, it was spelled both with a final -s and without.

They then note that later writers in the USA came to think (wrongly) that the 's' was an 'innovation' and therefore incorrect. While in the UK, no such idea took hold and the 's' form remained the most common.

The stage was set for the odd state of affairs we currently have: that toward is American and towards is British.


I think that either way works. The "s" on the end is meaningless; it's there purely for the sound.

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    Please improve this answer by citing your supporting research. Thanks.
    – MetaEd
    Apr 26, 2013 at 4:15

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