The Practical Guide: Toward vs. Towards

We all have those words that we use regularly but don’t really know how they’re supposed to be used. One of my sets of “problem words” is very ordinary: the toward/towards conundrum.

I never know when to use toward and when to use towards. Normally I just use whatever “sounds right” in the sentence. But when an editor recently corrected me on my use of the word (I had written towards; she replaced it with toward), I figured I should do a little research and solve my problem once and for all.

I looked in one of my bibles (is it okay to have several “bibles”? Is that blasphemy?) for the answer, The Canadian Press Stylebook: A guide for writers and editors, 15th edition. Sure enough, there was the -ward/-wards issue on page 433. Here’s what the CP Stylebook says:

Americans prefer the -ward form: toward, backward, afterward; Britons prefer -wards: towards, backwards, afterwards; Canadians use both forms.

Hm. So why did my editor change my use of towards to toward? I decided I should look in another bible of mine, my beloved Canadian Oxford Dictionary. It makes a note under the word toward on page 1,646:

As forms of the preposition, toward and towards are equally common in Canada; the fact that this dictionary lists toward first should not discourage the use of towards.

So none of this really answers my question. Does my editor simply prefer toward over towards, or was there a different reasoning behind her change? Am I lacking some really basic editorial knowledge on this topic? If anyone has some insights, I would love to hear them.

In the meantime, I think I’ll make a point of using toward when I write for that particular editor… and I’ll use either toward or towards in other writing, depending on which “feels right” 😉

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  • Katrina says:

    Thanks for the helpful blog! I’ve always wondered the very same thing about toward/towards. One of my colleagues thought it should always be “ward”, no matter what, but this didn’t always make sense to me as there are cases in which “wards” seemed most appropriate. Anyway, I like the solution you arrived at and am going to do the same.

  • Donna Estep says:

    The issue comes from the way we were taught. It has always been an ‘issue’ for me when people use the word ‘towards’, as all through school my English teachers taught us that it was incorrect grammar. So we use ‘toward’…

  • Babar says:

    As you researched, both toward and towards are correct to use. Now being an editor myself I can say your editor might have changed your towards to toward, probably to be consistent all over the document – if you used the word more than one time with and without “s” in your document. And, if you used it once or used all the time towards then it’s the choice of your editor the way she liked it. lol.

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