I’d like to take a moment to share some things about Afterward, Onward and Toward, three hotly contested words. Do you put an ‘s’ on the end or not?? Afterward, afterwards. Onward, onwards. Toward, towards. It’s enough to make you want to tear your hair out! Let’s take them one by one, shall we?

Afterward(s). Dictionary.com gives the following definition for both spellings: adverb; at a later or subsequent time; subsequently. OK. But which is the correct spelling?

It appears that spelling is primarily dependent on where you live. Americans tend to prefer afterward, while British speakers prefer afterwards. According to the Grammarist they are interchangeable, however other sources say that in formal writing you should stick to afterward and leave off the ‘s’.

Onward(s). Again from Dictionary.com: adverb; toward a point ahead or in front; forward, as in space or time.

Ahhh, here we get a little more complicated. It has to do with whether you are using the word to describe a noun or an action, i.e. adjective or adverb? And again we find the subtle difference takes place between British vs American English. Most references I found went back to this source which states: In British English, ‘onwards’ is an adverb and ‘onward’ is an adjective. In American English and sometimes in formal British English, ‘onward’ may also be an adverb.

Toward(s). To stay consistent we start again at Dictionary.com: preposition; in the direction of. (Note: I’m only taking the first, most commonly used definition. If you want more, well, that’s why I provide links.)

This is a hotly debated word. These guys say you should NEVER used towards, and these guys say it’s totally OK. The Grammarist gives a wonderful little write up, along with graphs showing the usage of the two variants. Basically, it once again depends on British vs American, but is trending towards the American. (See what I did there?)

Because I have them I decided to check out afterward, onward and toward in my Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia set, published in 1897. All three show both spellings as valid, with the small caveat that onward is used as an adverb and onwards as an adjective, and towards is used as a preposition versus toward which is used as an adjective.

Wasn’t that fun?

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