Walk Toward, Not Towards

In US English, you usually leave off the s on directional terms like toward, forward, and backward. Even though this is the way we often speak, it’s not correct grammar in writing. The exception is in the accepted usage of backwards, according to Bryan Garner. Here’s what he says in Garner’s Modern American Usage: “An exception in AmE is the adverb backwards, which is used frequently (though still much less often than backward) . . . When backward and forward combine in a phrase, be consistent about using the s.” He says leaving the s  off is more common. As an adjective, backward is acceptable: “It was a backward move.”

Wrong: “He walked towards the building.”
Correct: “He walked toward the building.”
Wrong: “The car rocked backwards and forwards.”
Correct: “The car rocked backward and forward.”

Here are some words in American English that do best without the s at the end: downward, outward, seaward, rearward, skyward, toward, upward.

There’s also little difference between words like southern and southerly: “The bees escaped and moved northward” or “They moved in a northerly fashion.” However, Garner emphasizes that sometimes you don’t need to add the word direction, since it’s a bit redundant and cumbersome:

Wrong: “Turn down High Street and head in a northerly direction.”
Correct: “Turn down High Street and head north.”

4 Responses to “Walk Toward, Not Towards”

  1. Brooke February 3, 2012 at 12:56 pm #

    The only exception with your last comment is when introducing speech mannerisms in a character’s dialogue that distinguishes one character from another, revealing back-story. For example, I can easily imagine a character like Doc Holiday choosing to say, “You just turn down High street, and head in a northerly direction.” 😉

    • cslakin February 3, 2012 at 1:00 pm #

      Sure, well, characters often break proper speech rules. In fact, it’s usually better when they do. Not a whole lot of people actually speak correctly, as I mentioned in the post. I don’t. I always use “lay” when I mean “lie” even though I know I’m saying it wrong (like “Hey, look at the dog laying there on the rug!”). And good character speech will reflect education and lack thereof, as well as culture, ethnicity, etc. Good point.

  2. Kelly Leiter March 2, 2012 at 12:42 pm #

    I already knew this but I’m sure there are a lot that don’t, so I recommended this article on my blog for beginning writers.

    • cslakin March 2, 2012 at 12:47 pm #

      Thanks! I hope you will subscribe to get the weekly writing tips and will share them on your blog!

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