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Difference Between Backward or Backwards

Backward or Backwards

In the exploration of English language nuances, the terms “backward” and “backwards” serve as a fascinating case study. These terms are often used interchangeably but have subtle differences in usage that hinge on grammatical conventions and regional preferences. “Backward” is generally used as an adjective, while “backwards” is more commonly employed as an adverb. However, the flexibility of English means that these roles aren’t strictly fixed, especially across different dialects.

Part of SpeechAdjective/AdverbAdverb
Common UsageRefers to direction or orientation, often used in a figurative sensePrimarily used to indicate a direction opposite to the front or to the direction one is facing
Regional PreferencePreferred in American EnglishFavored in British English
ExamplesA backward glanceMoving backwards
Backward vs. Backwards

Difference Between “Backward” OR “Backwards”

Definition of Backward

Backward as an adjective describes something directed behind or reversing normal direction. When used as an adverb, it can describe movement towards the back or into a worse state.

Definition of Backwards

Backwards, primarily an adverb, specifically refers to the action of moving or looking in the direction that one's back is facing, often implying a return to an earlier or less advanced state.

Origin of Backward

  • Backward originates from the Old English words “bæc” (back) and “weard” (direction), indicating directionality towards the back as early as the 14th century.

Origin of Backwards

  • Backwards shares the same etymological roots as “backward” but gained the “-s” ending to function distinctly as an adverb in usage, solidifying in the English language by the 15th century.


  • Backward: /ˈbæk.wərd/
  • Backwards: /ˈbæk.wərdz/

Comparing Backward and Backwards

While “backward” can adapt as both an adjective and adverb, “backwards” sticks primarily to its adverbial role, emphasizing movement in the reverse direction. The choice between them often depends on the grammatical context and regional dialect.

Comparison Table

Usage as AdjectiveCommon (e.g., a backward step)Rarely used as an adjective
Usage as AdverbUsed, especially in American EnglishPreferred in adverbial form, especially in British English
Indicates DirectionYesYes
Implies RegressionCan imply figurative regressionPrimarily indicates physical movement

Usage in Sentences with Explanations

Use of Backward in Sentences

  1. As an Adjective: The backward technology of the past fascinates historians.
    • Explanation: “Backward” describes the state of technology, implying it’s outdated.
  2. As an Adverb: He glanced backward before crossing the street.
    • Explanation: Indicates the direction of the glance, opposite to forward.
  3. The company took a backward step in its development.
    • Explanation: Implies regression or moving towards a previous state.
  4. She prefers to move things backward to create more space.
    • Explanation: Describes the direction of movement.
  5. The backward compatibility of the software is a major selling point.
    • Explanation: “Backward” describes the software’s ability to work with older devices or systems.

Use of Backwards in Sentences

  1. He stumbled backwards into the chair.
    • Explanation: Indicates the direction of the stumble.
  2. The clock runs backwards in the magician’s house.
    • Explanation: Describes the unusual direction in which the clock runs.
  3. Walking backwards can be a fun exercise.
    • Explanation: Specifies the direction of the walk.
  4. She looked backwards, fearing she was being followed.
    • Explanation: Indicates the direction of the look.
  5. The video shows the dancer moving smoothly backwards.
    • Explanation: Describes the direction of the dancer’s movement.


The distinction between “backward” and “backwards” is subtle and largely influenced by regional preferences and grammatical context. While “backward” can serve both as an adjective and adverb, “backwards” is predominantly used as an adverb, especially to indicate physical movement in the reverse direction. Understanding these nuances enhances clarity and precision in communication.

Commonly Asked Questions

  • Is “backward” or “backwards” more correct?
    • Both are correct, depending on the context and regional preference.
  • Can “backward” be used as an adverb in British English?
    • Yes, though “backwards” is more commonly used as an adverb in British English.
  • Are there instances when “backward” and “backwards” are interchangeable?
    • Yes, especially in casual speech or in dialects that do not strictly differentiate between the two.
  • Does the addition of “s” in “backwards” change its meaning?
    • The “s” does not change the fundamental meaning but does make “backwards” exclusively adverbial in most contexts.
Usage Examples


What is the difference between “backward” and “backwards” in American English?

“Backward” is an adjective that describes movement or position in the opposite direction, while “backwards” is an adverb that describes the manner in which an action is performed. “Backward” is used to indicate a reverse or retrospective action, while “backwards” is used to indicate moving or facing in the opposite direction.

Can “backward” and “backwards” be used interchangeably in American English?

No, “backward” and “backwards” cannot be used interchangeably. It is important to consider the specific context in which they are used. “Backward” is used as an adjective to describe movement or position, while “backwards” is used as an adverb to describe the manner of an action.

Are there any common mistakes when using “backward” and “backwards” in American English?

Common mistakes include using the terms interchangeably without considering the specific context. It is important to use “backward” as an adjective to describe movement or position and “backwards” as an adverb to describe the manner of an action.

What are some tips for proper usage of “backward” and “backwards” in American English?

To ensure proper usage, consider whether you are describing movement or position (adjective) or the manner of an action (adverb). Use “backward” as an adjective to describe reverse or retrospective actions and use “backwards” as an adverb to describe moving or facing in the opposite direction.

Jessica Smith

Jessica Smith

Jessica Smith, writer at, blends creativity with insight, exploring technology, culture, and psychology. With a background in English Literature, she crafts engaging stories inspired by nature and urban life. Outside writing, she enjoys exploring and continuous learning.View Author posts

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