The words toward and towards can cause a bit of confusion and unease in people’s writing because not many of us are sure when to use which one. Are these just variants of the same word? Do they have different meanings or different functions within a sentence?
In today’s post, I want to address each of these questions so that you will never again have to second-guess yourself while writing either of these words. So, what is the difference between toward vs. towards?
What is the Difference Between Toward and Towards
Toward and towards are both prepositions, meaning in the direction of, in a position facing, with regard to; in relation to, or in furtherance or partial fulfillment of.
- We are driving toward the mall.
- His was sitting with his back was towards me, so I couldn’t see his face.
- I am optimistic toward the newly elected president.
- We are saving our money to go towards spring break.
You’re probably still wondering, “Okay, when do I know which one to use?”
The answer to that question is simple: the difference between toward and towards is entirely regional preference. There is no demonstrable difference of sense or function between them, meaning both words can be used interchangeably.
When to Use Toward
Even though the only thing separating these two words is a dialectal difference, it is still important to keep your audience in mind when picking which word to use and when.
Toward (without the –s) is the preferred choice in American English. If you find yourself writing to an American audience in an American newspaper or magazine, toward is the best spelling to use. The AP Stylebook and The Chicago Manual of Style both advise American English writers to use toward.
Canadian English speakers also generally use toward without the –s at a higher rate than towards.
When to Use Towards
Towards (with the –s) is the preferred choice in British English and Australian English. The popular British usage guide Fowler’s estimates the ratio to be 9:1 in favor of towards vs. toward. Still, both words are used frequently in each community, but there is a clear and identifiable preference for one over the other in each region.
- American writers prefer toward.
- British English writers prefer towards.
In his book Garner’s Modern English Usage, Bryan Garner states that toward has been preferred in American English since around the year 1900. In British English, towards has always been the predominant form.
Remember the Difference
A good way to remember which one of these words to use and when is that toward with no –s is American. American also has no –s in it.
Towards with an –s is British, and British has an –s in it.
Other Directional Words
This same basic convention applies to other directional words as well. For example, American writers prefer upward, while British writers prefer upwards. The same is true for words like downward, forward, and backward, and also afterward.
Even though towards vs. toward can be used interchangeably, it’s still important to keep your audience in mind while writing them.
Toward is the preferred American form.
Towards is the preferred British form.