Column: Moving toward grammar enlightenment


Commentary by Curtis Honeycutt

Right now, we’re trying to teach our daughter to crawl. She’s 8 months old, and I can only imagine how ridiculous I look down on the floor attempting to show her how to push her body up off the floor and start moving toward me. Or is it towards me? Is it toward or towards?

The more I look at toward and towards, the more I’m convinced neither of them are real words. I think pretty much any word will do that to you. And shouldn’t toward and coward rhyme? I’m too scared to look into it; I think that makes me a toward coward.

It really all depends on where you live. In British and Australian English, you’ll find people give a polite, preferential nod to towards over toward. However, in the U.S. and Canada, we independently and unabashedly use toward more often than towards. Technically, either are correct in any situation, however, my rule is use whichever word sounds right in each situation; it’s up to you.

The AP Stylebook is no toward coward. AP states toward is always correct and towards is always a syntactical faux pas. While I appreciate the AP’s all-or-nothing approach, I don’t think it’s necessary to take a stand on every issue. Forgive me for my untowardness.

Is it weird that coward and towered rhyme? I think these words are messing with me. These two words could very well lead me to ward off either of these words from my writing for a year (at the very least).

In the same way American English prefers toward, the same rule works with other words related to direction, like forward, backward, downward, upward and afterward. Again, technically both are acceptable, but downward is preferable to downwards.

To remember this rule, think about how Americans like our words like we like our drive-thrus: Shorter, faster, more convenient and more efficient. Taking an axe to the s to make a word one letter shorter is the American way. Does that make us seem backward, or are we moving toward an enlightened state of simplicity and brevity? Either way, it saves one letter on our Twitter character counts, so I’ll take it.