As prepositions, the words toward and towards both have the following meanings:
in the direction of
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.
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)
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.
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 .