This article first appeared in Domain of Experts, a website where selected academic experts write.
One of my students recently asked me if there is a difference between “backward” and “backwards”. “Is it another of those American English versus British English thing?” he wondered aloud. I smiled. My students have become very used to my explaining how my American friends use different terms or spell certain words differently, compared to we Singaporeans (who use British English).
In fact, it is not just “backward” and “backwards” that many students got in a bind over, but all the various “wards” in English.
Forward vs Forwards
Forward can be used as an adverb or an adjective, and is used to describe a direction of motion, to the front, or describe a position. Forwards, on the other hand, can only be used as an adverb, and is used interchangeably with “forward”
The squad commander took a forward position on the battlefield. The rest of the soldiers moved forwards towards the spot he pointed.
Backward vs Backwards
Backward can be used as an adverb or an adjective, and is used to describe a direction of motion, to the rear, or to describe the state of a person. Backwards, on the other hand, can be used only as an adverb, and is used interchangeably with “backward”
The primitive and backward tribal army was no match for the riflemen facing them. The tribal army was forced backwards by the relentless bullets flying around them.
Sideward vs Sidewards
Sideward can be used as an adverb or an adjective, and is used to describe a direction of motion, to the side. Sidewards, on the other hand, can be used only as an adverb, and is used interchangeably with “sideward”.
The boxer took a quick sideward motion, before swinging sidewards to connect with his opponent.
It is very obvious, from all three examples, that any of the “wards” can only be used as an adverb, while all of the “ward” can be used as both adjectives and adverbs. In addition, “backward” can also be used to describe the state of a person, not just a direction.
Conclusion, and about American, British and Archaic Uses
A point to note, while interacting with my American and British friends. Only my British friends still use “wards”, my American friends totally disdaining the use of that as archaic and non-standard. And even among my British friends, their children’s generation no longer use the “wards”. It can be seen, then, that there shall come a time eventually when this article is no longer useful, as the “wards” slowly fall into disuse.
So there you go, all the “ward” issues solved, just by reading an article from Sensei Michael!