back·​ward | \ ˈbak-wərd \
variants: or backwards \ ˈbak-​wərdz \

Definition of backward

 (Entry 1 of 3)

1a : toward the back or rear She glanced backward over her shoulder.
b : with the back foremost Take three steps backward.
2a : in a reverse or contrary direction or way Count backward from 10.
b : toward the past a journey backward in time
c : toward a worse state His new job felt like a step backward.
bend over backward or lean over backward
: to make extreme efforts (as at concession) He said he would bend over backward to make the deal.



Definition of backward (Entry 2 of 3)

1a : directed or turned toward the back a backward glance
b : done or executed backward a backward somersault
2 : diffident, shy I have been backward to begin my canvass.— Edmund Burke
3 : retarded in development a technologically backward village



Definition of backward (Entry 3 of 3)

: the part behind or past … the dark backward … of time …— Shakespeare

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Other Words from backward


backwardly adverb
backwardness noun

Synonyms & Antonyms for backward

Synonyms: Adverb

back, rearward (also rearwards)

Synonyms: Adjective

rearward, retrograde

Antonyms: Adverb

ahead, along, forth, forward, forwards, on, onward (also onwards)

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Examples of backward in a Sentence


a sudden movement backward, not forward I heard a noise behind me and glanced backward. He pushed the throttle backward. She took a small step backward. a journey backward in time The narrative moves backward and forward in time.


a technologically backward village that has no running water a backward turn on ice skates is hard to learn because you can't see where you're going
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Recent Examples on the Web: Adverb

An operator had to be trained with a special helmet camera to follow Cruise in the scene inflight, and then fall backward from the plane just before Cruise, keeping the close-up intact. Bryan Alexander, USA TODAY, "Tom Cruise details insane 'Mission: Impossible' jump stunt at 25,000 feet, done 106 times," 26 Apr. 2018 Any cut in the defense budget would be a senseless step backward. James Inhofe And, WSJ, "Don’t Cut Military Spending, Mr. President," 29 Nov. 2018 Reds starting pitchers ranked 25th in the majors in ERA (5.17) in 2016 and took a step backward last year as their collective ERA rose to 5.55, second-worst in the majors. Jeff Sanders,, "Progress report: Cincinnati Reds," 4 Mar. 2018 This regulation will make schools more dangerous and, at the height of the Me Too movement, could take us backward. Jess Davidson, Glamour, "Why Does the Department of Education Want to Put Sexual Assault Survivors on Trial?," 28 Nov. 2018 Skip the museum within the complex's grounds and head to the North Gate, going backward toward the main entrance at Tiananmen. Hanya Yanagihara, Condé Nast Traveler, "50 Things to Do in Asia Before You Die," 24 Sep. 2018 After the Ryder Cup next month, much of what top players plan—when to take time off, when and where to play in early 2019—starts by working backward from the Masters. Brian Costa, WSJ, "Golf’s Looming Schedule Overhaul Could Elevate PGA Championship," 11 Aug. 2018 But only a few hours later, Mercury (the planet of communication) begins its twirl backward. Aliza Kelly Faragher, Allure, "What November's Cancer Horoscope Means for You," 28 Oct. 2018 Gonzalez jumped and reached his glove backward, catching the ball before appearing to land awkwardly on his right leg. Chandler Rome, Houston Chronicle, "Marwin Gonzalez exits Astros-Red Sox game with injury," 2 June 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective

The episode is using the war as its foundational tragedy, so that once the story moves backward in time past the war, the episode can ruminate on the sheer, horrible coincidence of any human life. Todd Vanderwerff, Vox, "This Is Us goes to Vietnam for a poignant, gut-wrenching episode," 21 Oct. 2018 The Hangover will rock them forward and backward for about a half-dozen revolutions before the ride is over. Robert Mccoppin,, "5 things to know about Six Flags' new Hangover thrill ride," 25 May 2018 That was a move backward in condition and everything. Jason Frakes, The Courier-Journal, "Betting odds and more on the field for Preakness 2018," 16 May 2018 Sometimes, the lead television camera would inch backward toward the door, as Trump grew smaller on the screen, just to be pushed back into place as the president leaped at another chance to defend himself and his presidency. Jenna Johnson,, "An airing of grievances: Trump spends days issuing a torrent of complaints against foes," 4 Apr. 2018 The driver, later identified as Ulysses Washington, then walked backward toward the traffic lanes of I-43. Jeff Rumage, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Suspected drunk driver runs across I-43 in Bayside, then gets back in car and later crashes into pole in Mequon," 29 Mar. 2018 The Georgia Tech team, however, discovered that the papillae actually curve backward toward the throat, enabling them to exploit surface tension to wick up water via capillary action—the same way plants absorb water from soil. Jennifer Ouellette, Ars Technica, "Science says your cat’s tongue is ideally suited for grooming fur," 28 Dec. 2018 Through November 16, you’ll be tempted to look backward, but keep pushing ahead, Sag babe. Aliza Kelly Faragher, Allure, "What October's Sagittarius Horoscope Means for You," 30 Sep. 2018 From this perspective, causes can seem to propagate backward in time, occurring after their effects. Philip Ball, Scientific American, "Quantum Physics May Be Even Spookier Than You Think," 21 May 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Starting another restructuring now would mean a step backward for shareholder returns as costs would rise and revenues disappear. Paul J. Davies, WSJ, "Barclays’s Badly Timed Activist Might Be Good For its Board," 8 Jan. 2019 Indeed, the problem was that somebody was a bit too hasty readying the saw that morning and had put the saw chain on the bar backward. Roy Berendsohn, Popular Mechanics, "The One Thing You Should Never Do with a Chainsaw," 8 Nov. 2018 That creates an opening for powerful special interests to influence campaigns in alignment with backwards facing policies, like climate change denial and restricting women’s rights. Marie Claire, "Why Your Vote Is More Important This Year Than Ever Before," 16 Oct. 2018 The move involves bringing one leg backward, which mimics the movement of a reverse lunge. Jenny Mccoy, SELF, "This Single-Leg Squat From Celebrity Trainer Kira Stokes Will Strengthen Your Entire Lower Body," 22 Aug. 2018 In one motion Oladipo leaps backward and then rises for a 3-pointer that ties the score and silences the crowd. Gregg Doyel, Indianapolis Star, "Doyel: LeBron and Cavs get this one but moment coming for Pacers, Victor Oladipo," 29 Apr. 2018 Both wore a white baseball hat, Anderson with the brim in front, Isner with his turned his backward. Howard Fendrich,, "Kevin Anderson outlasts John Isner in second-longest match in Wimbledon history," 13 July 2018 The first back-heel came at an inconsequential moment in the 30th minute, when Mbappé leapt in the air and sent a pass backward. Andrew Beaton, WSJ, "France’s Kylian Mbappé Shows Why He Is the World Cup’s Breakout Star," 10 July 2018 The work may also help engineers design more dexterous aerial robots—even ones that, yes, can fly backward. Victoria Davis, Science | AAAS, "This video reveals the secret to the dragonfly’s backward flight," 2 July 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'backward.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of backward


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a


1610, in the meaning defined above

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Statistics for backward

Last Updated

5 Feb 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for backward

The first known use of backward was in the 14th century

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More Definitions for backward



English Language Learners Definition of backward

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: toward the back : to or toward what is behind
: opposite to the usual way : in reverse
: toward the past



English Language Learners Definition of backward (Entry 2 of 2)

: directed or turned toward the back
: done backward
: behind others : not as advanced as others in learning or development


back·​ward | \ ˈbak-wərd \
variants: or backwards \ -​wərdz \

Kids Definition of backward

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : toward the back look backward
2 : with the back first ride backward
3 : opposite to the usual way count backward



Kids Definition of backward (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : turned toward the back He wears a backward baseball cap.
2 : done backward a backward flip
3 : not as advanced in learning and development as others Perhaps the strange language made him appear more backward than he really was …— Robert Louis Stevenson, Kidnapped

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More from Merriam-Webster on backward

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for backward

Spanish Central: Translation of backward

Nglish: Translation of backward for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of backward for Arabic Speakers

Comments on backward

What made you want to look up backward? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


to deny responsibility for

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