Should I Use 'Towards' Or 'Toward'?

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.


Comments

    There doesn't seem to be a good reason for "towards" to exist? Why did people start adding an 's'?

      I would assume that maybe because 's' is an easier sound to flow onto other sounds from? 'D' leaves your mouth open and only really ready to make a vowel sound. Particularly difficult if followed by another d word (toward death)...difficult in terms of things that are not difficult...

      This is off the cuff, but to my ear it sounds like "toward" is more of a 'perfect' while "towards" is more like 'perfect continuous'. (Please forgive me, grammophiles, for the grammar abuse). That is to say, 'toward' is something complete, as in acting untoward (the act happened, so as an adverb, toward it is), whereas 'towards' is imperfect, and/or continuous, since an act hasn't finished, or cannot finish, like heading towards the horizon, striving towards one's goal, etc.

      Or, I'm just plain reaching here, and there's some commonplace reason like word music, or phonetic agreement.

    So the short answer... It doesn't really matter..!

    Is there a difference between 'afterward' and 'afterwards'? Is it a similar situation to toward/towards?

    Is the same also true of "untoward" vs. "untowards" ?

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