backward, backwards
1. For the adverb, both forms are in use, although backward is somewhat more common in AmE and backwards in BrE:

• Talk ran backward from the events of the morning —A. Munro, CanE 1987

• I walked backward to look at her in the sun —E. L. Doctorow, AmE 1989

• Not knowing where he was, and trying to work his way backwards —R. Cobb, BrE 1985.

In the fixed expressions bend (or lean) over backwards, backwards and forwards, and to know backwards, backward is only found occasionally outside AmE:

• He'll bend over backwards to please a client —M. Bail, AusE 1975

• An eclectic collector…, he knows the showrooms backwards. —Financial Times, 1983

• The door kept swinging backwards and forwards —Anita Brookner, 1984

• From the study above them…came the sound of footsteps moving backwards and forwards across the floor —R. Border, 1991

• They move backward and forward between denial and anger and depression, unable to break out of the circle of despair —G. Carmichael, 1991.

2. For the adjective, the correct form in standard English is backward:

• He watched her walking away without a backward glance. —R. Sutcliff, 1954

• Getting involved with the blind in any way seemed like a backward step —Ved Mehta, 1987.

3. In addition to the directional meanings, backward has developed the sense ‘slow to learn’,’ (applied to children). This is now often considered offensive and should be replaced by more neutral and considerate terms such as having learning difficulties, cumbersome though these tend to be.

Modern English usage. 2014.


Look at other dictionaries:

  • backward — backward, retrograde, retrogressive, regressive all involve the idea of not moving or going ahead, or forward, or in advance. Only when applied to motion or a movement does backward imply the reverse of forward motion {a backward thrust of a… …   New Dictionary of Synonyms

  • Backward — Back ward, a. 1. Directed to the back or rear; as, backward glances. [1913 Webster] 2. Unwilling; averse; reluctant; hesitating; loath. [1913 Webster] For wiser brutes were backward to be slaves. Pope. [1913 Webster] 3. Not well advanced in… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Backward — Back ward, Backwards Back wards, adv. [Back, adv. + ward.] 1. With the back in advance or foremost; as, to ride backward. [1913 Webster] 2. Toward the back; toward the rear; as, to throw the arms backward. [1913 Webster] 3. On the back, or with… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • backward — [adj1] toward the rear astern, behind, inverted, rearward, regressive, retrograde; concept 581 Ant. ahead, forward, to the front backward [adj2] bashful afraid, averse, demure, diffident, disinclined, hesitant, hesitating, humble, indisposed,… …   New thesaurus

  • backward — [bak′wərd] adv. [ME bakward, for abakward < abak (< OE on bæc, back) + ward (< OE weard, toward)] 1. toward the back or rear; behind 2. with the back or rear foremost 3. in reverse [to spell a word backward] 4. in a way contrary to the… …   English World dictionary

  • backward — (adv.) c.1300, from abakward, from O.E. on bæc (see BACK (Cf. back) (adv.)) + weard adj./adv. suffix (see WARD (Cf. ward)). O.E. had the adverb bæcling. As an adjective, from 1550s. Meaning behindhand with regard to progress is first attested… …   Etymology dictionary

  • backward — ► ADJECTIVE 1) directed behind or to the rear. 2) having made less progress than is normal or expected. ● not backward in Cf. ↑not backward in DERIVATIVES backwardly adverb backwardness noun …   English terms dictionary

  • Backward — Back ward, n. The state behind or past. [Obs.] [1913 Webster] In the dark backward and abysm of time. Shak. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Backward — Back ward, v. t. To keep back; to hinder. [Obs.] [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • backward — I adjective arrested, behindhand, belated, dallying, defected, delayed, delaying, dilatory, impeded, late, mentally deficient, overdue, procrastinating, regressive, retarded, retroactive, retrograde, reversed, slow, subnormal, tardy, untimely II… …   Law dictionary

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