Did you know that your use of backward or backwards depends on where you live? Grammar Girl explains.
This week’s Quick and Dirty Tip is about backward versus backwards because the question of which word to use just came up internally among our editors.
These words can be adjectives and adverbs, so you can say “Squiggly often forgets to move backward when Aardvark is casting,”—that’s using backward as an adverb—and you can say “Grammar Girl wishes her Xbox games had backward compatibility,”—that’s using backward as an adjective.
Both backward and backwards are correct, but most sources say that when you’re using the word as an adverb, backward is standard in American English and backwards is standard in British English.
The way I remember the difference is to think that Americans like shortcuts. For example, I’m willing to bet that we eat in our cars more than British people do. So think about how Americans like shortcuts, and think about how we lopped the s off backwards to make it shorter. In the US, we use the shorter word: backward.
If you choose to use backwards in the United States, it’s not wrong, but it may look a little weird to people. It's like spelling colour with a u; it draws attention to itself and could be distracting for American readers.
If you’re using British English, it’s typically backwards as an adverb and backward as an adjective, so you have two things to remember.
[This article was updated July 24, 2014.]
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