Toward/s, Forward/s, Backward/s: To s Or Not To s?

man_walks_toward_lakeDo you say or write:

• He walked toward (or towards?) the lake.
• Let’s move forward (or forwards?) with our plan.
• She stepped backward (or backwards?) and stumbled off the porch.

Many sources say either works, but most suggest no s with toward, forward or backward in American English. Similar words that do not need an s are upward, onward, downward and afterward.

Reminder: Don’t confuse forward, a direction of movement, with foreword, a short introductory statement for a book or other published work. And remember that afterward means at a later time or subsequently, and afterword is a comment from the author at the end of a book.

The Queen’s English
If you are from Great Britain or have clients in the U.K., you likely know that towards is the preferred usage there:

The Queen’s limousine is heading towards Buckingham Palace.
The Scotland Yard investigator said the case was moving towards a conclusion.

What about anyway or anyways?
Again, common usage in the United States does not include the s:

If it rains, we’ll take a walk anyway.
She wasn’t home, but we left the package anyway.

How about outdoor or outdoors?
In this case, there is a difference. Outdoor is an adjective, and outdoors is a noun:

She enjoyed outdoor activities such as fishing and hunting.
Let’s look for a restaurant that offers outdoor dining.

He prefers a job that allows him to work outdoors.
It should be warm enough outdoors this evening for patio dining.

Adding an s will not impair someone’s understanding of toward, backward, forward or anyway, but not including the s in these cases reflects the standard U.S. English convention. Nor should similar words upward, onward and downward end with an s.

I invite Ruthless Editor’s Killer Grammar Tips subscribers from across the pond, or those originally from countries with usage that conflicts with the U.S. no-s convention, to share differences in other common, everyday words.


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Kathy Watson

Kathy Watson has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers standard usage guidelines of The Associated Press Stylebook. Her easy-to-use Grammar for People Who Hate Rules helps people write and speak with authority and confidence. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)