Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • preposition In the direction of.
  • preposition In a position facing.
  • preposition Somewhat before in time.
  • preposition With regard to; in relation to.
  • preposition In furtherance or partial fulfillment of.
  • preposition By way of achieving; with a view to.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • 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.
  • 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.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

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

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

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

Etymologies

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

[Middle English, from Old English tōweard : , to; see to + -weard, -ward.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From Old English tōweard, equivalent to to +‎ -ward

Examples

Comments

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  • I like this word in its adjectival usage.

    September 4, 2008

  • 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

  • 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 write toward, but I believe I have always tended to use towards in my speech.

    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

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

    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

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

    May 19, 2011

  • 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