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"Backward" Versus "Backwards"

Did you know that your use of backward or backwards depends on where you live? Grammar Girl explains.

By
Mignon Fogarty,

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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About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of the Quick and Dirty Tips network and creator of Grammar Girl, which has been named one of Writer's Digest's 101 best websites for writers multiple times. The Grammar Girl podcast has also won Best Education Podcast multiple times in the Podcast Awards, and Mignon is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame. Mignon is the author of the New York Times best-seller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing" and six other books on writing. She has appeared as a guest on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" and the "Today Show" and has been featured in the New York Times, Business Week, the Washington Post, USA Today, CNN.com, and more. She was previously the chair of media entrepreneurship in the Reynolds School of Journalism in Reno, NV. She hates the phrase "grammar nazi" and loves the word "kerfuffle." She has a B.A. in English from the University of Washington in Seattle and an M.S. in biology from Stanford University. Mignon believes that learning is fun, and the vast rules of grammar are wonderful fodder for lifelong study. 

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