[ wawrd ]
/ wɔrd /
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verb (used with object)
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Which form is used to state an obligation or duty someone has?

Origin of ward

before 900; (noun) Middle English warde,Old English weard; (v.) Middle English warden,Old English weardian; cognate with Middle Dutch waerden,German warten;cf. guard


wardless, adjective

Other definitions for ward (2 of 3)

[ wawrd ]
/ wɔrd /


Other definitions for ward (3 of 3)


a native English suffix denoting spatial or temporal direction, as specified by the initial element: toward; seaward; afterward; backward.
Also -wards.

Origin of -ward

Middle English; Old English -weard towards; cognate with German -wärts; akin to Latin vertere to turn (see verse)

usage note for -ward

Both -ward and -wards occur in such words as backward, forward, upward, and toward. The -ward form is by far the more common in edited American English writing.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022


What does -ward mean?

The suffixward is used to mean “in the direction of,” either in time or space. It is often used in everyday and technical terms.

The form –ward comes from Old English –weard, meaning “towards.”

What are variants of –ward?

The suffix –ward is more common in North American English. In British English, the variant –wards, as in towards, is more commonly used. Want to know more? Read our Words That Use article on wards.

Examples of -ward

An example of a word you have likely encountered that features –ward is backward, “toward the back or rear.” Backward comes from the Middle English bakwarde, which uses the equivalent of the form in that language.

The first part of the word indicates the direction. In this case, back– means “rear.” As we already know, –ward means “toward” or “in the direction of.” Backward literally means “toward the back” or “in the direction of the back.”

What are some words that use the combining form -ward (using the equivalent form of –ward in Middle or Old English)?

What are some other forms that –ward may be commonly confused with?

Not every word that ends with the exact letters –ward or –wards, such as reward or coward, is necessarily using the combining form –ward to denote “direction.” Learn why coward means “lacking courage” at our entry for the word.

Break it down!

Given the meaning of the suffix –ward, what does seaward mean?

How to use ward in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for ward (1 of 3)

/ (wɔːd) /

(tr) archaic to guard or protect
See also ward off

Derived forms of ward

wardless, adjective

Word Origin for ward

Old English weard protector; related to Old High German wart, Old Saxon ward, Old Norse vorthr. See guard

British Dictionary definitions for ward (2 of 3)

/ (wɔːd) /

Dame Barbara (Mary), Baroness Jackson. 1914–81, British economist, environmentalist, and writer. Her books include Spaceship Earth (1966)
Mrs Humphry, married name of Mary Augusta Arnold. 1851–1920, English novelist. Her novels include Robert Elsmere (1888) and The Case of Richard Meynell (1911)
Sir Joseph George. 1856–1930, New Zealand statesman; prime minister of New Zealand (1906–12; 1928–30)

British Dictionary definitions for ward (3 of 3)


(forming adjectives) indicating direction towardsa backward step; heavenward progress
(forming adverbs) a variant and the usual US and Canadian form of -wards

Word Origin for -ward

Old English -weard towards
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Medical definitions for ward

[ wôrd ]

A room in a hospital usually holding six or more patients.
A division in a hospital for the care of a particular group of patients.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.