Which Word Wednesday: Toward vs. Towards

By April 4, 2012 language No Comments

Lynne Truss—author of Eats, Shoots and Leaves—compares herself to the little boy from The Sixth Sense. She says that instead of seeing dead people, she sees dead language.

I can also see dead language. I also see lifeless punctuation. It’s the little things that make my ears itch, like the pronunciation of the T in often or the use of a non-word like irregardless.

Then there are words that are acceptable for use depending on which side of the pond you call home. Most differences between American English and British English are pronunciation in nature (we say advertisement with four syllables: ad-ver-TISE-ment; the Brits say it with three: AD-vertis-ment).

But there are also some spelling differences between American and British English, such as toward versus towards.

My sources tell me that toward—no S—is standard in American English. The Oxford American Dictionary explains it like this:

It might seem pedantic to point out that toward is the correct U.S. spelling and towards is British. On the other hand, so many writers at all levels seem ignorant of the difference that always using toward is a costless, unpretentious way to signal your fluency in American English. It’s the same with gray (U.S.) and grey (Brit.), though many Americans have been using these two interchangeably for so long that some U.S. dictionaries now list grey as a passable variant. This is not likely to happen with toward/towards, though—at least not in our lifetimes.

Well, that’s a relief—we can be unpretentious and correct!

This ruling of no S at the end in American English also applies for the words forward, backward, and afterward. The S at the end is the British variation. (You can dig it out for use the next time you head overseas.)

What’s my WWW verdict? You can now be correct four times more often by dropping the S from these four words. Easy peasy! And according to the OAD, it’s costless. Bonus!

What’s your verdict? Do you speak American English? Or do you speak like the Brits with an S tacked on the backside of these four words? Do share in the comments.

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Check out previous Which Word Wednesday verdicts here.

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