Definition of backward in US English:



  • 1Directed behind or to the rear.

    ‘she left the room without a backward glance’
    ‘a gradual backward movement’
    1. 1.1 Looking toward the past, rather than being progressive; retrograde.
      ‘he said the decision was a backward step’
  • 2Having made less than normal progress.

    ‘economically backward countries’
    1. 2.1offensive, dated (of a person) having learning difficulties.
      ‘a lively child but a bit backward’


  • 1(of a movement) away from one's front; in the direction of one's back.

    ‘he took a step backward’
    ‘Harry suddenly fell backward into a somersault’
    1. 1.1 In reverse of the usual direction or order.
      ‘counting backward’
      ‘baseball caps turned backward’
  • 2Toward or into the past.

    ‘a loving look backward at his early life’
    1. 2.1 Toward or into a worse state.
      ‘a giant step backward for child-centered education’


In US English, the adverb form is sometimes spelled backwards (the ladder fell backwards), but the adjective is almost always backward (a backward glance). Directional words using the suffix -ward tend to have no s ending in US English, although backwards is more common than afterwards, towards, or forwards. The s ending often (but not always) appears in the phrases backwards and forwards and bending over backwards. In British English, the spelling backwards is more common than backward


  • backward and forward

    • In both directions alternately; to and fro.

      ‘I paced backward and forward’
  • bend (or lean or fall) over backward

    • informal Make every effort to achieve something, especially to be fair or helpful.

      ‘he bent over backward to be fair to the defendants’
      try, attempt, venture, undertake, aspire, aim, seek, set out
      View synonyms
  • know something backward (and forward)

    • Be entirely familiar with something.

      ‘she knows the language backward and forward’
      acquire a knowledge of, gain an understanding of, acquire skill in, become competent in, become proficient in, grasp, master, take in, absorb, assimilate, pick up, digest, familiarize oneself with
      View synonyms


Middle English: from earlier abackward, from aback.