Definition of backward in English:



  • 1[attributive] Directed behind or to the rear.

    ‘she left the room without a backward glance’
    ‘a gradual backward movement’
    • ‘The moment the interview finished, Cameron marched briskly away to his next appointment, with not even a backward glance at his rival.’
    • ‘The fur naps to the rear, thus sliding forward and resisting backward movement.’
    • ‘What normal twenty-year old rushed home straight after classes, without a backward glance?’
    • ‘Without a backward glance, she closed the French doors and unhooked the sash that held the heavy drapes that covered the white lace sheers.’
    • ‘A dogfight was not exactly what he signed up for when he put his famous name to a two-year contract in the summer but he has adjusted his sights accordingly and has no time for any backward glances.’
    • ‘Alvin slapped the door shut behind him with a backward scrape of his heel, to muffle the shouting from the neighbors, and sidled along the wall away from her.’
    • ‘Many believe it's simply a matter of walking out, and slamming the door without a backward glance.’
    • ‘After about 3 weeks Mercury ceases its backward movement and, on reversing its direction again, once more slows down and appears to halt before moving back in a direct motion.’
    • ‘The real giveaway is the female's hidden pouch, albeit backward opening, for rearing its young.’
    • ‘He took it and disappeared without a backward glance.’
    • ‘Then off they go, with barely a backward glance, never to return.’
    • ‘Hazarding a backward glance since her escape, Andrea forced a bit more speed into her getaway when she realised that he was catching up with her.’
    • ‘The book gives us a backward glance of Ballaghaderreen; it is the touching for a moment of the familiar places of the town.’
    • ‘Consider practicing lateral and backward movements while drawing smoothly and shooting quickly yet carefully from full concealment.’
    • ‘This latest backward glance is more lonely lunchtime housewife than supper-club romance or hell-of-a-day blues.’
    • ‘The skies have not fallen, constitutions remain intact, the franc and the mark have passed unmourned into history and euroland has carried on about its business with scarcely a backward glance.’
    • ‘Few successful players can omit the backward movement.’
    • ‘This backward movement shortens (and thus reduces the tension of) the spring, permitting the box once again to ride the belt.’
    • ‘The other three boys left without a backward glance and I attempted to do the same but as we arrived at the edge of the woods, I looked quickly over to where we had left Gregory.’
    • ‘We are shown images of bees, signifying the backward movement of trying to escape one's destiny.’
    1. 1.1Looking toward the past, rather than being progressive; retrograde.
      ‘he said the decision was a backward step’
      • ‘The general consensus seems to be that a return to a full winter season would be a backward step - and not just because of the impracticalities.’
      • ‘I do not want to see Scotland taking a backward step.’
      • ‘He could, as he acknowledges, step into the breach in an emergency, but adds: ‘It would be a backward step for the manager to bring me in.’’
      • ‘He added that the county's economy was growing at six per cent and a three per cent increase was a backward step.’
      • ‘Downsizing may seem like a backward step but if, at the end of the year, the reduced enterprise has rid itself of debt and put itself into a profitable position, it will have been the right move.’
      • ‘Tinkering with criminal law is a backward step in countering the deep cultural realities of homophobia, racism, sexism.’
      • ‘‘It was not a backward step,’ said the veteran, quite vehemently.’
      • ‘It was a backward step for women and for civil rights generally.’
      • ‘I have been steadily taking backward steps in my gaming.’
      • ‘Its bad enough as it is, we don't need to be taking any backward steps.’
      • ‘Which is not to say that the album is a backward step.’
      • ‘He has never flinched, never buckled, never taken a backward step in defending the rights of our editors and journalists to find the news and report it in a fair and balanced way.’
      • ‘It's not my kind of place at all - plus it would feel somewhat like a backward step, a retrograde manoeuvre, a return to a place of history.’
      • ‘It was a bit of a backward step for us after some decent performances and we will have to lift our game again for the next matches.’
      • ‘No excuses, no backward steps, just aggression and dynamism and a lot of honesty, qualities that have finally given him a secure hold on Ireland's No.1 jersey.’
      • ‘This is a major backward step for the future and for energy generally.’
      • ‘‘At a time when business de-rating has ended, it's a backward step to see the promotion of Orange halls in this way’.’
      • ‘A lot of good work has been done but this is a backward step.’
      • ‘Given this trend, it is a backward step to talk about ‘producing’ children who could never have an experience of living with both their birth parents.’
      • ‘There is absolutely no excuse or justification for such a backward and undemocratic step being taken.’
  • 2Having made less than normal progress.

    ‘economically backward countries’
    • ‘Rural poverty and backward agriculture will have to be tackled with, among other things, irrigation, power, communications and education.’
    • ‘Club members say that many of the children from the economically backward families were registered with the club.’
    • ‘Let all those who plundered money in the name of running banks give loans to those economically backward people.’
    • ‘A progressive president and a backward parliament rarely go well together.’
    • ‘Can we say she is ideologically backward or that she has backtracked to the status of household slave?’
    • ‘As part of its social service, the college has decided to induct 15 students from economically backward families and impart free education to them from this year.’
    • ‘For example, you have in Mexico, poor people who are agriculturally backward.’
    • ‘Chess is renowned for producing eccentric and socially backward individuals.’
    • ‘Given the extremely backward state of Polish agriculture, its small farming businesses are expected to die like flies.’
    • ‘Yet they remain educationally backward and are economically lagging far behind the others.’
    • ‘Hailing from economically backward families, a steady source of income has immensely boosted the confidence levels of these women.’
    • ‘So higher education is denied to the economically backward students.’
    • ‘The programme stands out from the usual Government programmes of supporting the educational needs of the socially backward students by its very approach.’
    • ‘Life Institute of Technical Education is an advanced technical institute for physically challenged and economically backward persons.’
    • ‘It has often been seen that the people when they are economically backward, tend to lean on irrational habits and rituals to find some relief or an easy way out.’
    • ‘They are educationally backward so they cannot afford higher professional education, which is growing more and more costly.’
    • ‘I would like to bring to your kind notice the fact that in spite of being industrially backward, it has always been a great center of learning.’
    • ‘The Scandinavian monarchies were transformed from poor and rather backward societies into prosperous agricultural democracies.’
    • ‘His volunteers used to visit each and every house to collect rice and other things just to give solace to the economically and socially backward persons.’
    • ‘The first one suggests that the backward economies can make rapid progress by imitating the leaders.’
    underdeveloped, undeveloped, unsophisticated
    View synonyms
    1. 2.1dated, offensive (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’
    • ‘As he grabs himself and falls backward, she pushes herself to her feet, revealing her untied hands.’
    • ‘All eyes fell on Buck who staggered backward a little.’
    • ‘She twirled around, gasping, stumbling backward into the other wall, and falling into a silent fountain.’
    • ‘He took a few more steps backward, nearly at the place where the object lay.’
    • ‘A man who is just standing, no matter how strong he may be, will falter backward if you push him from the front.’
    • ‘I waved my hands in front of my face and took two more steps backward.’
    • ‘Something inside him snapped, and suddenly he shoved Felix backward and struggled to put his shirt back on.’
    • ‘As he did so, he took a step backward and lost his balance.’
    • ‘Tilt the forward skate backward, bringing the front of the skate up and pressing down on the heel.’
    • ‘Yolinda spins around and sort of falls backward.’
    • ‘I actually stumbled backward a few steps in surprise.’
    • ‘She yells in surprise, falls backward, and emits a stream of carefully worded curses.’
    • ‘Adam turned to Joe to form a united front, but found that Joe had taken a step backward and was now suddenly very interested in attending to a stirrup.’
    • ‘Suddenly, she heard a shout and saw her brother fall backward.’
    • ‘You take a couple of steps backward, turn and walk quickly toward the front door.’
    • ‘You'll often see him peel away or take a few quick steps backward to avoid an onrushing forward at the last second.’
    • ‘Claire took a couple of steps backward to get a better perspective of the painting.’
    • ‘The one nearest her stands straight up, jerking as if in a seizure, and falls backward from the ladder.’
    • ‘His arm follows and suddenly whips backward, torso turning with it, snapping his back into a terrible arch.’
    • ‘Then something yanked my feet out from under me and I fell backward into the pool and came up sputtering.’
    towards the rear, rearwards, behind one
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1In reverse of the usual direction or order.
      ‘counting backward’
      ‘baseball caps turned backward’
      • ‘In this exercise you will be counting backward from fifty to zero, synchronizing the counting with your breathing.’
      • ‘Daniel turned his ball cap backward and leaned forward to sight his target through the scope.’
      • ‘He turned his hat backward and snapped shots of his teammates warming up.’
      • ‘If a player turns his hat backward, he's not trying to make a cultural statement.’
  • 2Toward or into the past.

    ‘a loving look backward at his early life’
    • ‘In 1854, he was looking backward to his years of spiritual fulfillment before his highly subjective idealism had begun to wane.’
    • ‘Historians in the late 19th and early 20th centuries worked backward and pieced it together.’
    • ‘And all the time she was looking backward to the day, seemingly so long ago, when she sat on the box seat for the first time, her legs dangling in the air, too short to reach the footboard.’
    • ‘History never moves backward, and the past never returns.’
    • ‘He was looking backward to this life, and wanting it all now.’
    • ‘He says that she has heard him speak in High German, Akkadian, and Aramaic which Peter interprets as his going backward through many past lives.’
    • ‘Frantically, he thought backward toward the night before.’
    1. 2.1Toward or into a worse state.
      ‘a giant step backward for child-centered education’
      • ‘Meanwhile, cinematic science fiction takes a big giant step backward.’
      • ‘Of course, the league took its first step backward financially last year, when the salary cap was reduced from the previous season's cap for the first time.’
      • ‘He hasn't lost faith, even with the Chiefs taking a huge step backward a year go.’
      • ‘If we leave too early, the people will suffer horribly and the world will have taken one giant step backward.’
      • ‘We do not view this road as a major development for the area, but a degenerate step backward.’
      • ‘And if they refuse to, I think it's a giant step backward and makes the world more unstable.’
      • ‘But his level was so much higher at the position, he could take a step backward and still be better than most.’
      • ‘But scarcely 20 miles away, a new four-lane toll road is a giant step backward.’
      • ‘This was a bitter step backward for the coach, who led his old school to a winning record and a bowl in his debut a year ago.’
      • ‘There may well be sound reasons for doing so, but camps neglect to inform the nurse who, in turn, feels as though health promotion has just taken a giant step backward.’
      • ‘But I was to learn that every step forward by the accounting industry was followed by a giant step backward.’
      • ‘The workmanship was top-notch and, simply put, this was no step backward.’
      • ‘All told, it appears that marooned on this jungle island, humanity took a giant step backward to survive.’
      • ‘For a league trying to stand at the forefront of racial and ethnic matters, these were steps backward.’
      • ‘They will take steps backward before they become great again, if they become great again.’
      • ‘Whatever his motivations, the move represents a major step backward for Russian democracy.’
      • ‘Establishing new structures without a balanced means for selecting participants may be a giant step backward.’
      • ‘It sounds like a spiritual step backward, yet she seems like an intelligent and thoughtful woman.’
      • ‘At some point next week in a courtroom in Memphis, college football will take one giant leap backward when the gavel strikes and a trial ends.’
      • ‘It marks his first slight step backward as a solo artist but it's hardly a failure.’


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.

      • ‘But 2002 was also a year in which careers suddenly moved backward and forward as if reputations were determined by a spin of the wheel in an old-time children's board game.’
      • ‘These circuit-controlled devices change shape when you apply a voltage to them, which causes the robot to maneuver backward and forward.’
      • ‘Each woman tells her own tale with a wisdom born of truth, and through the use of scrapbook and personal photos we travel backward and forward in time with them as they chronicle their individual triumphs and tragedies.’
      • ‘Completely at a loss and not trusting his own sense, he was forcing a way through at this point, but the filthy swamp ooze at length compelled him to make for dry ground again and there he wandered helplessly backward and forward.’
      • ‘Apparently, this piece of news was also incredibly amusing, for she began rock backward and forward in her seat, absolutely shaking with silent laughter.’
      • ‘The men could bend backward and forward, and when they pulled hard, the woman was suspended in mid-air.’
      • ‘Friendly banter consisting of ‘snores that can be measured on the Richter scale’ and ‘she needs to have her silencer replaced’ have been thrown backward and forward at her expense.’
      • ‘It is one of those areas throughout the industry where people move backward and forward into different roles both within companies and externally.’
      • ‘She utilizes flashbacks, memories, dreams, and visions in the construction of her tale, drawing readers backward and forward in time to learn key details necessary for understanding the history that flows beneath the fiction.’
      • ‘Roll your shoulders, backward and forward, 10 times.’
  • bend (or lean) over backward to do something

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

      ‘Jensen bent over backward to be fair’
      • ‘You can't expect to make a crosstown move at 5 p.m., but both the film office and the police department bend over backward to get us where we need to be.’
      • ‘Unfortunatly, when covering such stories newspapers feel they have to bend over backward to be fair to both sides.’
      • ‘‘We try to bend over backward to be even more evenhanded,’ he claims.’
      • ‘That's why, when news stories discuss polarization, they bend over backward to avoid laying the ‘blame’ on the political right.’
      • ‘I am very tolerant, very fair and I'll bend over backward to put right something I know to be my fault.’
      • ‘Most of the scientists who engage this issue bend over backward to avoid offending people.’
      • ‘Instead of being territorial, the pros in Nashville will bend over backward to help a colleague out of a bind.’
      • ‘However, I feel that you too often bend over backward to attribute good will to those opposed to truth.’
      • ‘Reach out to manufacturers and don't be surprised if they bend over backward to help you solve your problems.’
      • ‘With such a flimsy case presented by the plaintiffs, the judge would have had to bend over backward to accept this as a class action, and that's just what he did.’
      try one's hardest, try as hard as one can, do one's best, do one's utmost, do all one can, give one's all, make every effort
      strive, struggle, apply oneself, exert oneself, work hard, endeavour, try
      do one's damnedest, go all out, pull out all the stops, bust a gut, move heaven and earth, give it one's best shot
      go for the doctor
      try, attempt, venture, undertake, aspire, aim, seek, set out
      View synonyms
  • know something backward (and forward)

    • Be entirely familiar with something.

      • ‘Both coaches have studied every aspect of their jobs and know it backward and forward.’
      • ‘‘You have to know it backward and frontward,’ he says.’
      • ‘Without the parameters of a micro-scene to guide you, the DJ has to know his records backward and forward to understand how pieces cut from different saws might snap together.’
      • ‘Ed hands him the business budget and tells him he'll have to know it backward and forward for their meeting with the bank guy at 7 AM Monday morning.’
      • ‘You need to do the program yourself first, know it backward and forward, and then come up with a list of everything that could possibly go wrong and fix it or develop a plan to work around it.’
      • ‘My first mistake, I quickly learned, had been assuming that the secret to a successful interview was to know your subject matter backward and forward.’
      • ‘I want a drama coach who knows drama backward and forward and can teach it; who will not rest until those under her also know it backward and forward and can do it.’
      • ‘You have to own those levels, know them backward and forward, and once you do, the teleportation isn't such a big deal anymore.’
      • ‘You can know it backward and forward, but when you get in front of an audience, it's different.’
      • ‘Keep repeating this process until you know the material 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.