Running “Toward” the House, or “Towards” the House?

By Maeve Maddox

As prepositions, the words toward and towards both have the following meanings:

in the direction of
facing
with regard to
as a help to

NOTE: toward/towards have numerous other meanings and can be used as adjectives as well as prepositions. This post is concerned with their use as prepositions.

Question
The question is, if they both mean the same thing, when should one use toward and when towards?

Here are some examples drawn from the web:

Nader takes steps towards another White House bid (headline, CNN)

Obama moves toward White House bid (headline,Chicago Sun-Times)

Contributing towards medical care coverage
(headline, US Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Japan to continue contributing toward Mideast peace (headline, BNET Business Network)

Answer
Either toward or towards is acceptable.

Towards is said to be the preferred British version, but this random sampling suggests that it is not uncommon American usage.

Pronunciation
Answers.com gives three possible pronunciations for toward:[tôrd, tōrd, tə-wôrd’]

The OED offers four pronunciations, and Merriam-Webster no fewer than six.

Here’s what H.W. Fowler had to say about pronouncing toward or towards with two syllables:

The prepositions are best pronounced [tord(z)], but in recent use the influence of spelling is forcing [toowor’d(z)] on the half educated. —Modern English Usage .

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21 Responses to “Running “Toward” the House, or “Towards” the House?”

  • Corey Freeman

    Thanks for the explanation! I tend to use “towards” when writing anything. I hadn’t really thought about the pronunciation until now, though. That was an interesting tidbit.

  • Gabe

    You had me stressing over the difference at first. But as it turns out, there is no substantial difference. I can go on about my day feeling better now.

  • mand

    Thanx; i’ve always wondered (and never got round to looking up) when to use which.

    I have never heard either pronounced with fewer than two syllables, though. Must be a Brit thing.

    Well – i have, but assumed it was lazy pronunciation (cf Bush: ‘proud to be a merkin‘). ;0)

  • Hal

    This couldn’t have been more timely for me. I am re-reading Les Misérables (unabridged) and recording it. I have always used ‘toward’ with singular and towards with plural meaning. Victor Hugo – translation considered – uses towards everywhere the word appears. I find this hard to say in the singular form.

  • Maeve

    Mand,
    I clicked on your link. My goodness! That’s a new one for me.

  • nutmeag

    My personal preference is sans the S, but here in Texas, most people use towards. As for pronunciation, I’ve rarely heard it pronounced as “tord,” but more of “tward.” Would that make it 1 1/2 syllables? 😉

  • Babaganoosh

    Any word on the writing contest submissions? I come here every Monday to get my fix.

  • Cassie Tuttle

    Someone first asked me the “toward” or “towards” question about ten years ago. I’d never given it much thought, but I did look it up. And yes, “towards” is the preferred British, and “toward” without the “s” is American English. Supposedly.

    Sometimes, “towards” just sounds better to me (and I’m American).

    Unless I’m writing or editing strictly according to CMOS, this is one of those “rules” where I allow my gut instinct to rule.

  • Rhonda

    I never gave this much thought, either. Thank you.

  • TT

    Thanks for this post!

  • PreciseEdit

    In speech: I have heard both the one-syllable pronunciation and the two-syllable pronunciation. The latter always sounded “funny” to me.

    In writing: We use “toward” consistently in our own writing. For British clients, we use “towards.” However, for our U.S. clients, we simply use the one they seem to prefer. For us, this is an issue of consistency and not correctness.

  • merih fidan

    thank you very much for the tiny but invaluable information.

  • Joe

    Why not be more exact when teaching English? the word toward is proper American English. Towards may be used quite often but is not proper for Americans. This is similar to gray vs. grey. Grey is not American English. Why not teach people to speak correctly based on their location? Why muddy the water? If this keeps up, some day we won’t even be speaking English anymore. (We already have Spanglish.)

  • mand

    Joe, on what basis have you decided that toward is proper and towards not? Were you taught that, or is it simply that your view of grammar is prescriptivist rather than descriptivist (meaning Cassie Tuttle’s dictionary should be obeyed)?

    Secondly, you seem to imply that allowing ‘Britishisms’ of spelling and pronunciation will dilute your English… am I misreading you?

  • Joe

    Hi Mand,

    To further my point, if it is generally accepted that two words have the same meaning, why not recommend to readers that they use the word preferred, or most popular, in their own locale?

    I am very proud and thankful to live in America and to be a speaker of English. I try to show that by speaking and writing American English to the best of my ability. If you have a choice, choose the language of your land.

    Here’s another example for you to consider. If your child asked you how to pronounce schedule. Would you tell him, “well, you can say it as shejool, or you can say it as skejool. They mean the exact same thing, so you can choose.” No, you wouldn’t. But if this “either is correct” mentality keeps up, some day you may. Do we really want one global language generations from now? Some do, I suppose. I don’t.

    The reason words change or English gets “diluted,” as you put it, is mainly due to ignorance. With the dumbing-down of our education system, and our general populace, comes the dumbing-down of our language.

    Respectfully,
    Joe

  • mand

    Well, I’m certainly with you on speakers using their native version/pronunciation of words. I suppose, having British English far more threatened by Americanisms than US English is by Britishisms (is that even a term used, I wonder), I’m sometimes touchy. Sorry if I was this time. 🙂

  • Sean Lewis

    I’m with Joe above, and what I’ve read here on the topic of toward/towards has rocked my world — and I fear I may not be able to sleep tonight. I have always thought that “towards” was simply a result of some uneducated wrinkle developing in the pronunciation and use of the word “toward.” Why on earth would an s ever need to be added to this perfectly well-functioning word to begin with? Can we also add an s to countless other prepositions like to, over, through, above and along??? Why wouldn’t we? As Joe implies (I think), there isn’t much reason to have an “either way goes” approach to this, at least in my book (which I have yet to write). Aside from any historical development of the word “towards” — and heck, even if it does help to legitimize the word’s use — “towards” is just an annoyance to me and will never ever seem correct — when the word “toward” does the just quite sufficiently, thank you. Time for my pill….

  • Chris Colton

    This thread emphasises the English/American divide. I have just discoverd this web site and am fascinated. As a very experienced editor of English texts, I have come to rwalise that my native language, English English, is so very different from the tongue of my transatlantic friends. May I be permitted to intrude into your American conversation and interpolate an English viewpoint?
    Towards implies direction and is a preposition
    Toward is an adjective meaning appropriate, or acceptable – opposite is untoward.
    That is the English orthodoxy, albeit misundrstood in America.
    Another example is forwards, versus forward: the former is a directional preposition, the latter is an adjective meaning precocious, or self-
    promoting.

  • Chris Colton

    Please forgive the typographical errors in my previous submission..!

  • Ann Barnidge

    Chris, your clarification on the British uses of “toward” and “towards” is very interesting and informative, and soothes my frazzled nerves over the use of “towards” by our friends on your isle. However, I will stick with proper American English and continue to cringe every time one of my fellow countrymen uses it!

  • jjhausman

    As long as the reader understands what you’re trying to say, what does it matter, the sultry little nuances of grammar? I come from the school where rules are made to be broken, where language is constantly in flux (from Old English to Middle English to current form). Good to have a standard, sure, but how do scholars explain regional dialects? Language isn’t written with a ruler and compass. It’s not a mathematical equation. It’s closer to a seance. Anything goes, even speaking in tongues, as long as the reader gets moved.

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