Backward or Backwards: What’s the Difference?

British English writers and American English writers use their directional adverbs differently. For those who don’t know, these are those adverbs that indicate direction. 

The British writers add the letter “s” to the end of these words. For example, downwards, upwards, skywards, towards, and more.  On the contrary, American writers don’t use the “s.” They leave their direction adverb without the “s.” For example, toward, downward, upward, skyward, etc. What happens when such words are also adjectives, for instance, backward? In this post, we will learn the distinction between backward and backwards and their usage in sentences.

backwardsWhat Does Backward Mean?

The word backward can either be an adverb or an adjective. As an adjective, it is used to indicate something or someone as underdeveloped, less progressed, or regressive.


  • This is a beautiful village, but backward.
  • Sometimes, backward thinking propels you forward.
  • In this small backward town, people depend on agriculture for survival.
  • These backward policies will undo10 years of progress.
  • What kind of backward thinking is that?
  • When he was a child, the teachers thought he was backward as he learned quite slowly.

The word backward as a directional adverb means the opposite way, direction behind someone. In short, it is the opposite of forward

When backward is used as an adverb, it can be used with or without “s.” This distinction is a result of British or American usage. The spelling backward is standard in American English while backwards in British English. However, it’s important to remember that in British English, backward is only an adjective. The British primarily add an “s” to the end of their directional adverbs.

Examples of Backward (Adverb) in American English

  • Emma left the room without a backward glance.
  • The football rolled backward down the hill.
  • She glanced backward to make sure no one was following her.
  • She stepped backward.
  • As soon as I heard a noise behind me, I glanced backward.

What Does Backwards Mean? 

As mentioned above, In British English, the word backwards is a directional adverb, which has a similar description and meaning as backward in American English.  

Examples of Backwards (Adverb) in British English

  • The movie skips backwards and forwards through time.
  • She lost her balance and fell backwards.
  • In the play, she takes a journey backwards through time.
  • Sometimes, I feel like time has stopped, and the clock is going backwards.
  • “Ambulance” is written backwards so you can read it in the mirror.

So we can say that both versions are correct and have the same meaning, but their usage depends on where you live. In British English, the correct spelling is backwards (as a directional adverb) while Americans use backward.

How to Remember the Difference

If you’re using the word as an adjective, there is only one spelling i.e. backward, no matter whether you’re writing it in an American or British English. However, when it comes to its usage as an adverb, you can remember that backwards has an “s” like British county, Surrey. Thus you can memorize the backwards is the British spelling.  


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