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Moving toward the correct answer on this one

Looking to settle the toward vs. towards question, the Monitor’s language columnist discovers the excrescent “t.”

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It's one of my favorite rules in the Monitor stylebook: All the "wards" words (well, almost all – more on that in a moment) lose their "s." It's "toward," "backward," "forward," and so on, not towards, backwards, or forwards. Unlike some other style rules, it's simple and straightforward. What's not to like?

But Erin Brenner, writing on the blog at Copyediting.com, makes me realize that not every publication supports its editors with such direct guidance on this issue. And a little poking around the Web confirms that many people trying to do right by the English language wonder about "toward vs. towards."

Here's what Ms. Brenner wrote:

"These days, American English has largely dispensed with the final s, although British English retains it. We'll choose upward, downward, afterward, toward, and the like, while the Brits will use upwards, downwards, afterwards, towards, and so on.

"Although American English prefers its directional words sans s, the s form is used to a lesser degree, and most dictionaries list them as variants."

She concludes that either set of forms is fine, as long as usage is consistent throughout a given piece of writing: "Save the red ink for more important battles."

She does make an exception for backwards, however: "In American English, we use backward for the adjectival form, but we use either backward or backwards equally for the adverbial form. Chalk it up to the vagaries of language users."

One can use up quite a bit of chalk that way. The Monitor's quirky exception to its own rule on "wards" words is "upwards of," as in "Upwards of 500 people crowded the City Council chamber last night to protest budget cuts." The reasoning is that "upwards of" is idiomatic. Period. Please pass the chalk.

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