Have you ever typed the word toward and wondered if you should have spelled it towards? This preposition can be confusing — but it doesn't have to be. Keep reading to learn more about when you should use toward vs. towards, and whether the difference between the words is bigger than an "s."
Toward vs. Towards: Ending the Confusion
Which One Is Correct?
Is toward or towards correct? When they're used as prepositions, both words are technically correct. The preference is the same as many British vs. American spelling conventions. English speakers in North America tend to prefer toward, while countries that use British spelling prefer towards. It just depends on what sounds most correct to the speaker or writer.
Grammatical Function and Meanings
Both toward and towards are prepositions that mean "in the direction of." They have several meanings but always function as part of a prepositional phrase that includes an object of the preposition. Toward and towards can indicate literal movement in a direction, such as:
- We're driving toward/towards Phoenix.
- Just keep walking toward/towards that big red building.
- The cat slowly crept toward/towards the unsuspecting mouse.
The prepositions can also show a figurative movement or position between nouns. For example:
- Gillian is working toward/towards her Bachelor's Degree.
- Both midterm exams will count toward/towards your final grade.
- All of my savings are going toward/towards a new game system.
Both words can mean "facing" or "turned to," such as in these sentences:
- Miguel's back was toward/towards me.
- Let's have the bed turned toward/towards the door.
- The students' desks pointed toward/towards the front of the class.
Another definition of toward and towards is "near." For example:
- Our house is toward/towards the back of the apartment complex.
- We both fell asleep toward/towards the end of the boring movie.
- Lisa's campsite is located toward the river.
Finally, the last meaning of these prepositions is "in regard to." You'll find this meaning in the following examples:
- I've been feeling differently toward/towards Taylor lately.
- Isaac's attitude toward/towards his parents has been disrespectful.
- Our team's feelings toward/towards the project are optimistic.
Which word sounds better to you? If you're an American reader, you may automatically choose toward in each of these sentences. However, if you're from England or another English-speaking country, you may have read these examples with towards instead.
Toward as an Adjective
There is one case where you'd always choose toward instead of towards, but it's rare and not commonly used anymore. Toward can be an adjective that means "coming soon" or "happening now." Some examples include:
- The morning meeting is toward.
- The baby's birth is toward, so stay near the phone.
You wouldn't use towards in these cases. However, using toward as an adjective is a bit old-fashioned and has fallen out of favor, so you're not likely to see it in your reading or daily conversation.
History of Toward vs. Towards
If both words have the same meaning and nearly the same spelling, why are they both still part of the English language? No one knows for sure. Both toward and towards come from the Old English word tóweard, which has the same meanings as its modern versions. They are similar to other direction words that end in -ward, such as forward (also forwards) and backward (also backwards).
The "s" at the end of towards used to indicate that towards was an adverb. However, as a preposition, it doesn't have a grammatical function. But both words have been commonly used for the last several hundred years, so it's really just a matter of preference in casual writing and conversation.
Style Guide Recommendations
When it comes to formal writing, there are some recommendations from different style guides regarding toward and towards. The AP Stylebook recommends that writers use toward instead of towards (and forward instead of forwards), as does the Chicago Manual of Style and APA Style. So if you're writing a formal paper and want to know which word to use, your best bet is toward.
Straighten Up Your Spelling
No matter what goal you're working toward (or towards), you'll be able to write about it without worrying that you've made a grammatical error. However, not every pair of similar-sounding words is quite so interchangeable. Take a look at these tips on keeping let's vs. lets straight in your writing. Or if you've always wondered about more British/American word disagreements, learn more about the difference between whilst and while.