Alternative formsEdit


Etymology 1Edit

From backward +‎ -s. See also -s (used in the formation of certain adverbs: backwards, downwards, inwards, etc.).


backwards (comparative more backwards, superlative most backwards)

  1. Oriented toward the back.
    The battleship had three backwards guns at the stern, in addition to the primary complement.
  2. Reversed.
    The backwards lettering on emergency vehicles makes it possible to read in the rear-view mirror.
  3. (derogatory) Behind current trends or technology.
    Modern medicine regards the use of leeches as a backwards practice.
  4. Clumsy, inept, or inefficient, especially in learning.
    He was a very backwards scholar, but he was a marvel on the football field.
Usage notesEdit
  • In senses 3 and 4, and often in American English, backward is preferred.
Derived termsEdit

Etymology 2Edit

From back +‎ -wards


backwards (comparative more backwards, superlative most backwards)

  1. Toward the back.
    The cabinet toppled over backwards.
    Life is lived forwards, but understood backwards.—Søren Kierkegaard
  2. In the opposite direction to usual.
    The clock did not work because the battery was inserted backwards.
  3. In a manner such that the back precedes the front.
    The tour guide walked backwards while droning on to the bored seniors.
  4. towards the past; ago
Usage notesEdit
  • In written American English, backward is more common.
  • Strictly speaking, backwards is an adverb and backward is an adjective in British English; in American English, the rule may be reversed. This follows the same usage for similar words ending in -ward/-wards and -way/-ways. See also -wise.
    It was a backward move vs He moved backwards
  • Also, even though an adverb may be used in adjectival combinations (eg a quickly moving car), only the -ward forms are commonly used in adjectival combinations, e.g.:
    A backward-facing statue. / A backward facing statue.
Related termsEdit