Peter from Business Insider popped his head over the partition the other day and asked if towards or toward was correct in a headline. I instinctively answered "towards", but then realised I couldn't offer a full explanation for my reasoning. Time to head to the dictionary.
Towards picture from Shutterstock
The Macquarie Dictionary offers four primary definitions for towards as a preposition:
- in the direction of ("She went towards the door")
- with respect to ("His attitude towards the company")
- shortly before ("towards three o'clock")
- as a help or contribution to ("a donation towards that aim")
While these differ subtly in meaning, they all use the towards spelling.
Toward is listed as an 'also' entry under towards, which indicates that it's generally the less common form. As well, most of the other senses given for toward itself are marked obsolete.
So the answer is actually straightforward: always lean towards using "towards" and you'll be fine. Using toward isn't out-and-out wrong, and almost everyone will understand what you mean, but it's better to be consistent.
Lifehacker's Mind Your Language column offers bossy advice on improving your writing.