Grammar Police: Towards vs Toward

I’m re-editing a paper for my doctoral program based on some recent feedback, and I came across an interesting edit I disagreed with.

(Well, it’s interesting if you find anything dealing with grammar interesting. Which I think comes from my days in journalism. Which probably means it’s not really interesting.)

I used “towards” in the paper and received the note, “Toward never has an ‘s’ at the end.”

I beg to differ. You see, I remembered my college roommate and editor of the yearbook researching this exact topic for a yearbook titled “Accelerating towards (toward?) something.” He determined that both are equally acceptable. One may have a preference, but it’s just that: a preference.

I trusted his research, but once I had a smart person telling me I was wrong, I realized that my roomie wasn’t always known for his grammatical preciseness (Sorry, Ryan). So it was time to do some research.

Turns out, I’m right. But I’m going to change anyway. Here’s why.

One of my favorite grammarians, Grammar Girl, says this:

“Toward” and “towards” are both correct and interchangeable: you can use either one because they mean the same thing. Many sources say the “s” is more common in Britain than in the United States, so you should take into account what the convention is in your country, and use “towards” in Britain and “toward” in the U.S.

Grammarist backs this up. They write that both are acceptable and share meanings (yes!), but that towards is more common in British writing while  toward has gained popularity in American writing (again!). They include these nice charts, courtesy of Google Ngram, that show towards and toward usage in over the past 200 years or so.

Usage in British books


Usage in American books

Interesting, isn’t it? So there you have it. I still say they’re interchangeable  BUT, I also recognize that I’m an American writing papers in America for primarily American readers. So I’ll use toward.

It’s also a good reminder that language is always in flux. There are rules, but beyond the style guide for your specific field, there are usually gray areas.

(Disclaimer – this is a blog post, not a paper. As soon as you write about grammar, someone shows up to critique the language you used to write the post. I’m sure I made mistakes throughout this. As long as I got close, I’m happy.)

One response to “Grammar Police: Towards vs Toward”

  1. Sarah Beth Kondratuk

    I agree with you… sometimes it is a preference, sometimes it is interchangeable… so here are two questions for you that have bothered me a long time.
    1. Why do people write “in order to…” why don’t they just do it?
    2. Why do people say “I try AND do…” why don’t they try TO do it?
    I was looking at your Dad’s web page and came across your blog- thought I would take the time to ask you my burning questions…. I will be moving to Arizona in January with my husband, and was checking out NAU. I have found some very interesting information on the website.

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