Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • prep. In the direction of: driving toward home.
  • prep. In a position facing: had his back toward me.
  • prep. Somewhat before in time: It began to rain toward morning.
  • prep. With regard to; in relation to: an optimistic attitude toward the future.
  • prep. In furtherance or partial fulfillment of: contributed five dollars toward the bill.
  • prep. By way of achieving; with a view to: efforts toward peace.
  • adj. Favoring success or a good outcome; propitious.
  • adj. Happening soon; imminent.
  • adj. Obsolete Being quick to understand or learn.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • prep. Moving in the direction of (but not necessarily arriving at).
  • prep. In relation to (someone or something).
  • prep. For the purpose of attaining (an aim).
  • prep. Located close to; near (a time or place).
  • adj. Future; to come.
  • adj. Approaching, coming near; impending; present, at hand.
  • adj. Yielding, pliant; docile; ready or apt to learn; not froward.
  • adj. Promising, likely; froward.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • adj. Approaching; coming near.
  • adj. Readly to do or learn; compliant with duty; not froward; apt; docile; tractable.
  • adj. Ready to act; forward; bold; valiant.
  • adv. Near; at hand; in state of preparation.
  • prep. In the direction of; to.
  • prep. With direction to, in a moral sense; with respect or reference to; regarding; concerning.
  • prep. Tending to; in the direction of; in behalf of.
  • prep. Near; about; approaching to.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • In the direction of.
  • To; on the way to; aiming or intending to reach, be, become, do, or the like: referring to destination, goal, end in view, aim, purpose, or design.
  • With respect to; as regards; in relation to; concerning; respecting; regarding; expressing relation or reference.
  • For; for the purpose of completing, promoting, fostering, defraying, relieving, or the like; as a help or contribution to.
  • Near; nearly; about; close upon; as, toward three o'clock.
  • [Toward was formerly sometimes divided, and the object inserted between.
  • Coming; coming near; approaching; near; future; also, at hand; present.
  • Yielding; pliant; hence, docile; ready to do or to learn; apt; not froward.
  • Promising; likely; forward.

Etymologies

Middle English, from Old English tōweard : , to; see to + -weard, -ward.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Old English tōweard, equivalent to to +‎ -ward (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • At present everything seems tending toward the relaxation of ties, —toward the substitution of wayward choice for the adherence to obligation, which has its roots in the past.

    II. St. Ogg’s Passes Judgment. Book VII—The Final Rescue

  • I could not help being moved, and glanced over toward the daughter's seat; but she was gone, and, turning round, I saw her going quietly, almost stealthily, and very quickly, _toward the cove_.

    Stories of Mystery

  • "Peddler" could be just what it takes to get the wheels turning on a rethink of gender expectations in commitment, and also a label toward which some men may not want to steer, so instead, put on the breaks.

    Adam Foldes: 'Spinster'? What About 'Peddler'? A Gender Inequality in Terms of Commitment

  • So even if, like Larry Craig, who will survive his term toward what end because Craig cannot run and cannot win, so I don't challenge the odds that he would be resigning.

    CNN Transcript Mar 12, 2008

  • In the 20th century, the bench and bar continued their progress if that is the word toward full professional status.

    A History of American Law

  • The chemist answered the question by turning the label toward her.

    No Name

  • Jo backed away and turned without a word toward the cabin.

    IRON LAKE

  • Glendenning shouted the name toward the roofbeams above.

    LADY of SKYE

  • He was struggling to put the bar code on Oprah, so Quaid pulled the label toward Dr. Oz. (click any picture for a larger version)

    Lean Blog

  • I think you will also find the Palestinians use the term toward the Israelis.

    Citizendium, the Citizens' Compendium - Recent changes [en]

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Comments

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  • I thought BrE was pretty neutral about all the other -ward(s) words, and was surprised to see how much 'forward' preponderates over 'forwards': about 10 in 1 in both Ngrams and the BNC.

    Examination of the BNC shows that much of this can be put down to common constructions like 'look forward to', 'put forward' (a proposal etc.), where only the one is possible.

    May 20, 2011

  • Thanks, rolig! Interesting stuff. I can't think of any case where I would write or say "forwards" either.

    May 19, 2011

  • Blaff, my sense is that there is no difference in usage, if you mean that the same person would say or write"toward" in certain contexts and "towards" in other contexts. Certainly there is no difference in meaning. As an editor I have no qualms about changing "towards" to "toward" in any context (except in quoted material) -- or vice versa, depending on the style sheet I am using. The same is true for me with regard to other -ward/-wards words. The one exception that springs to mind is the adjective untoward (e.g. "untoward behavior"); I would never use this with an -s. But for me "backward thinking" and "backwards thinking" are equally correct; it all depends on the style sheet.

    Curiously, though, I don't think I would ever use "forwards" as an adjective: "forwards thinking" definitely sounds wrong to me. But that might just be me.

    May 19, 2011

  • I have often wondered if there was a difference in usage.

    May 19, 2011

  • This is fascinating; thanks, qroqqa!

    On edit, after reading rolig's astute comment: the very regular pattern of change from one form to the other between 1840 and 1940 is still striking, and suggests that the American usage was well-established by 1940. I wonder when the AP Style guide was first published.

    May 19, 2011

  • There is a strong bias for edited text with Google Ngrams (its results are based on books, newspapers, and magazines), and I suspect that these results are partly, maybe largely, due to the fact that the AP stylebook, among others, insists on -ward spellings. In the spoken language and in non-edited or informal texts, I wonder if you will find the same sharp preference for toward among US speakers. It is not at all unusual for Americans to say towards. Speaking personally, as a Baltimore-born copyeditor trained to follow AP, I usually writetoward, but I believe I have always tended to use towards in my speech.

    May 19, 2011

  • The current AmE preferred form of 'towards', and has been since 1900, as illustrated strikingly on Google Ngram Viewer. Other -ward(s) words don't have anything like so dramatic a history.

    In BrE it's always been very much a minor variant, but it may have started to come into regular use in recent years.

    May 19, 2011

  • I like this word in its adjectival usage.

    September 4, 2008