1. Directed or facing toward the back or rear.
2. Done or arranged in a manner or order that is opposite to previous occurrence or normal use.
3. Unwilling to act; reluctant; shy.
4. Behind others in progress or development: The technology was backward, but the system worked.
adv. or back·wards (-wərdz)
1. To or toward the back or rear.
2. With the back leading.
3. In a reverse manner or order.
4. To, toward, or into the past.
5. Toward a worse or less advanced condition.
Usage Note: Most American English dictionaries list -wards as a spelling variant of the directional suffix -ward. Accordingly, two variants are provided for most of the adverbs that end with this suffix: backward/backwards, toward/towards, upward/upwards, and so on. Although both variants are considered acceptable, the -ward suffix is more common in American English, whereas the -wards suffix is more common in British English. This distinction is more prominent in edited prose than in casual writing or speech, possibly because many American copyeditors follow style manuals that recommend or prescribe the -ward variant. Despite this dialectal differentiation, there remains significant variation in usage among individuals and even among the different -ward words themselves. This variation is evident in the results from our 2012 usage survey: backwards and towards were deemed acceptable by 72 percent and 69 percent of Panelists, respectively, but only 38 percent found forwards to be acceptable. Note that for those -ward words that also function as adjectives, the form without the s is standard: a backward look; a westward journey.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2018 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
The American Heritage Dictionary Blog
Check out our blog, updated regularly, for new words and revised definitions, interesting images from the 5th edition, discussions of usage, and more.