Toward vs Towards
So, toward vs towards, what’s the difference?
There is no difference in meaning.
There is a slight difference in usage. Here’s the rule for for the difference in usage:
You should use toward when speaking or writing to an audience of North Americans
You should use towards when your audience is predominantly British.
Overview of Toward vs Towards
You’ve probably heard both toward and towards used frequently. You may not even think about it when you say either one of them yourself. Maybe you feel weird saying towards because everyone around you says toward or vice versa.
According to dictionary.com, toward and towards are the same word. This is mostly true, as they have an identical meaning. As you can see, the “s” is the only identifier between the two words at this point.
So, you can use either one as you please and still be correct, given the definitions. But based on your audience you might want to use one over the other.
Hopefully, through this post, you will begin to understand more clearly which word to use, especially when writing or speaking formally. This will make it easier to focus on the content of your writing or speaking, and you will not have to second guess yourself.
Geography of Toward vs Towards
In American and Canadian English, toward may be more frequently used.
Towards is used more common throughout areas outside of North America.
That being said, you should be able to use either one to effectively get your point across, no matter where you are.
As you have probably noticed throughout your education, research, and reading, there are very slight differences between British and American words. One of the most popular is color versus colour. Another one is check versus cheque.
From this pattern, you can see that the British words are often longer and often have letter combinations that most of us American English speakers are not used to seeing.
For those who have grown up using American English, the British words seem very long and just different. The same is true for British speakers who are looking at American English words. The British English speakers see American words as shorter and less proper.
Tip: You can use this to remember toward for American English (short) and towards for British English (longer).
At this point, in America, we no longer spell British American words such as colour or organise the way we used to. You probably spell these words like color or organize, which is what many are most used to if you’ve lived in North America for much of your life. The same thing happened with toward and towards.
As a basic rule:
You should use toward when speaking/writing for North Americans.
You should use towards when your audience is predominantly British.
But nothing terrible will happen if you mix these up, so don’t get too worried.
History of Toward vs Towards
When we take a look back at Old English, toward originated from the word toweard. The added “s” changed this word to an adverb, in Old English. This was back in the 9th century. From the later 1800s and on, the use of towards in American usage slowly declined.
As mentioned previously, words like colour now have Americanized spellings, which are almost always used in North America. The same is true for the word towards, but it just has not phased out the same way that the British spelling of colour has.
Over time, we in the USA have begun to move slowly away from using towards for the most part, but many people still use the word interchangeably with toward, as it is acceptable.
Toward vs Towards in Formal Writing
In more professional writing in America, editors may choose to omit the “s”, as it is considered more British. This depends entirely on the writer and the editor. With no real hard and fast rules on toward versus towards, an editor may just go by what he or she uses most frequently or what they were taught to use growing up. This could also depend on what “sounds right” when the editor rereads the passage including toward or towards.
From the rest of this post, you have probably realized that it really does not matter much which one you use, and it truly does not. If you are an editor or a writer, you can make the decision on your own, but try to stay consistent. Not only will this help you and your readers to maintain focus (it would be distracting to jump between the two, in my opinion), but it will also show attention to detail and professionalism overall.
A Minor Exception
Though there is little difference between the two words, the Associated Press (AP) deems one of them as incorrect. The AP Stylebook Twitter account tweeted “AP Style tip: We use forward and toward, not forwards and towards.”
The AP Stylebook is a reference book for writers and other professionals, and it gives readers guidelines for many literary, spelling, and grammar topics. It is pretty well regarded as a trustworthy and legitimate source for these topics.
That being said, it may be more proper to use toward, according to the AP Stylebook, but it also may be because of what is more commonly used in North America.
Additionally, we can take a look at the Chicago Manual of Style, a similar guide when compared to the AP Stylebook. The Chicago Manual of Style states that, because toward is used more often in American English, it should be used. This is also because their press is American, rather than British English, so it makes more sense given that context.
You will find that The Writer’s Harbrace Handbook states that both variations of the word are acceptable, but toward is more accepted in American grammar. You will notice that this is essentially the same idea that was listed in the Chicago Manual of Style. This handbook is similar to the AP Stylebook and the Chicago Manual of Style, but it is still important to compare these various sources to help you better understand the differences.
You can use toward and towards interchangeably in most cases because they have the same meanings. Toward is more acceptable in North America, and towards is more correct outside of North America.
There are no official rules either way though so you can use whichever one you please. There is no need to worry about whether you are using the right one or not anymore! You can pretty much just make the decision based upon what sounds best to you personally.
It is important to realize there are exceptions to this general statement, an example being the AP Stylebook stating that towards is incorrect. The Chicago Manual of Style also says that toward is more correct, based on British and American English standards.
You can use these as guidelines if you would like to, but you will still get your point across regardless of which version of the word you decide to use. And if you are writing for a predominantly British audience you may want to use towards.
It might also be useful for you to make a personal decision regarding which version of the word you will use, for consistency’s sake. If you keep switching between the two, you will potentially distract your audience from the actual content of your presentation or literary piece.
It may also be confusing for you to look back frequently to see which version you last used and why you chose to use it if you are looking to maintain a consistent pattern. So, to prevent these potential issues, you could pick one to use and stick with it, but it is entirely up to you and depends on your personal preferences.
Perhaps you can use toward when speaking or writing for an American and Canadian English audience and switch to towards when your target audience is outside of North America.
Other pages you might be interested in:
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