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When to Use Towards or Toward

Instructor: David Boyles

David has a Master's in English literature. He has taught college English for 5+ years.

Is 'toward' or 'towards' the correct usage of this common word? It turns out both are acceptable, though 'toward' is more acceptable in American English while 'towards' is more acceptable in British language.

Separated by a Common Language

In a famous saying that has been widely attributed to British writer George Bernard Shaw, it has been said that the United States and Great Britain are 'two countries separated by a common language.' There is no evidence Shaw ever actually said this, but whatever its origin, the statement has struck a nerve, highlighting the sometimes frustrating differences between American and British English.

Some of the differences are obvious, such as how an 'elevator' in America is a 'lift' in Britain, but others are more subtle and confusing. One example of this is the difference between 'toward' and 'towards'.

Toward and Towards

'Toward' and 'towards' are both variants of the same word. It is a preposition, which shows connections between words in a sentence, and it means 'in the direction of.' Many people will argue that 'towards' is the more formal or proper form of the word, and 'toward' is the slang version. Other people argue just the opposite.

The truth is that most experts on grammar and usage agree that neither is more formal or correct than the other. The only difference seems to be that 'toward' is more often used in American and Canadian English and 'towards' is more often used in Great Britain and other English-speaking countries outside of North America. However, there are plenty of exceptions even to this rule, as you will often see 'toward' used in British publications and vice versa.

Basically, the difference between 'toward' and 'towards' is the same as the difference between 'elevator' and 'lift'. Neither is more 'correct', it just depends on where you're at.

Usage

So how do you use both 'toward' and 'towards'? As mentioned above, it is a preposition that is used to indicate direction. Let's look at it in a couple of sentences. First, let's see the American usage, 'toward':

  • I walked toward the front door.
  • Sally threw the ball toward Jane.
  • The dog ran toward the ball.

Now here are those same sentences with the British usage, 'towards':

  • I walked towards the front door.
  • Sally threw the ball towards Jane.
  • The dog ran towards the ball.

You can see that the meaning of the word is clear in both, and neither is more 'formal' than the other.

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