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The ending -wards

Q From Marlayna Slaughterbeck: My question relates to words taking the suffix -ward to indicate direction. My assumption has been that adding an s is incorrect (upwards as opposed to upward, towards rather than toward), yet I see it being done often, even in reputable publications such as The Atlantic Monthly and the New Yorker. My hope is that you will clear this up and that I’ll finally be able to put aside this distraction and move forward (or even forwards)!

A First off, the sense is exactly the same whether there’s an s on the end or not. And both forms are equally valid, though — as you have found — usage varies quite a bit.

In American English, the forms without the final s are much more common, at least in edited writing, and this is perhaps why you have gained the impression that those with the s on the end are incorrect.

British English is different. Over here, we tend to use the forms without the s as adjectives (“she was a backward child”), and those with the s as adverbs (“his car shot forwards”), though we’re not always consistent in this.

My guess is that, for a change, American English is being influenced by British writers.

Page created 13 Apr. 2002

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Last modified: 13 April 2002.