backward, retrograde, retrogressive, regressive all involve the idea of not moving or going ahead, or forward, or in advance. Only when applied to motion or a movement does backward imply the reverse of forward motion

a backward thrust of a hand


the backward swimming of a cray-fish

Its commonest implication is failure to move ahead; in this sense it is chiefly applied to human beings who do not or cannot progress or develop with others of their age, kind, or class or to persons or things that hold back or are held back from doing what is normal or to be expected; thus, a child who is unable to keep up with others of his age in school because of some degree of mental deficiency is described as backward; a person who holds back from expressing his appreciation, or in urging his candidacy for a position, because of shyness or self-distrust is also describable as backward; when cold weather and frosts delay the development of vegetation beyond the normal or usual time, the season may be called backward

England, throughout the middle ages, was one of the backward countries of Europe: it was on the outskirts of the great continental civilization— Mumford

Retrograde is not only applicable to backward motion and backward movement but also to any moving or seemingly moving thing that proceeds in a direction which is contrary to the direction usually followed by things of its kind

retrograde motion of a wheel


a retrograde planet seemingly moving from east to west

It is also applicable to a process (as of natural development) in which the events occur in an order contrary to the usual or progressive; thus, an animal that passes from a more complex to a simpler and often degenerate state during development is said to manifest retrograde development. Retrograde when applied to races, cultures, institutions, or movements differs from backward in implying decline or degeneration; thus, a backward society is one that does not progress, while a retrograde society is one that is relapsing into barbarism or sinking into an inferior state.
Retrogressive implies opposition to progressive. Like retrograde, and unlike backward, it implies movement in the direction that is the reverse of forward; unlike retrograde, however, it is seldom applied to physical movement; thus, one speaks of a retrograde (but not a retrogressive) movement or rotation, but one might speak of retrogressive (or retrograde) cruelties or behavior when stressing decline from some higher or more progressive level. Retrogressive is sometimes preferred as a milder term when the reverse of improvement or betterment rather than positive decline from an improved or better state is implied

a retrogressive policy


objections were made to the proposed legislation on the ground of its probable retrogressive effect

Regressive carries a stronger implication of going backward by steps or degrees and often, also, a weaker implication of failure to progress or move ahead than any of the others. Consequently it is often the preferred term when a colorless or uncolored statement of fact is intended; thus, when one infers a cause from an effect or a principle from a number of facts he follows a regressive process of reasoning; the process of growing old may be described as a retrograde development when the emphasis is on its backward direction, as a retrogressive development when the stress is on the absence of progress, and a regressive development when the intent is to indicate that it is marked by an inversion of order in its stages; a regressive loss of memory implies that the most recent memories disappear first and the earliest linger longest.
Analogous words: laggard, dilatory, *slow: *stupid, slow, dull, dense: *lethargic, sluggish: *abnormal, atypical
Antonyms: advanced
Contrasted words: civilized, cultured (see corresponding nouns at CIVILIZATION): cultivated, cultured, refined (see corresponding nouns at CULTURE): educated, instructed (see TEACH)

New Dictionary of Synonyms. 2014.


Look at other dictionaries:

  • backward — backward, backwards 1. For the adverb, both forms are in use, although backward is somewhat more common in AmE and backwards in BrE: • Talk ran backward from the events of the morning A. Munro, CanE 1987 • I walked backward to look at her in the… …   Modern English usage

  • Backward — Back ward, a. 1. Directed to the back or rear; as, backward glances. [1913 Webster] 2. Unwilling; averse; reluctant; hesitating; loath. [1913 Webster] For wiser brutes were backward to be slaves. Pope. [1913 Webster] 3. Not well advanced in… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Backward — Back ward, Backwards Back wards, adv. [Back, adv. + ward.] 1. With the back in advance or foremost; as, to ride backward. [1913 Webster] 2. Toward the back; toward the rear; as, to throw the arms backward. [1913 Webster] 3. On the back, or with… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • backward — [adj1] toward the rear astern, behind, inverted, rearward, regressive, retrograde; concept 581 Ant. ahead, forward, to the front backward [adj2] bashful afraid, averse, demure, diffident, disinclined, hesitant, hesitating, humble, indisposed,… …   New thesaurus

  • backward — [bak′wərd] adv. [ME bakward, for abakward < abak (< OE on bæc, back) + ward (< OE weard, toward)] 1. toward the back or rear; behind 2. with the back or rear foremost 3. in reverse [to spell a word backward] 4. in a way contrary to the… …   English World dictionary

  • backward — (adv.) c.1300, from abakward, from O.E. on bæc (see BACK (Cf. back) (adv.)) + weard adj./adv. suffix (see WARD (Cf. ward)). O.E. had the adverb bæcling. As an adjective, from 1550s. Meaning behindhand with regard to progress is first attested… …   Etymology dictionary

  • backward — ► ADJECTIVE 1) directed behind or to the rear. 2) having made less progress than is normal or expected. ● not backward in Cf. ↑not backward in DERIVATIVES backwardly adverb backwardness noun …   English terms dictionary

  • Backward — Back ward, n. The state behind or past. [Obs.] [1913 Webster] In the dark backward and abysm of time. Shak. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Backward — Back ward, v. t. To keep back; to hinder. [Obs.] [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • backward — I adjective arrested, behindhand, belated, dallying, defected, delayed, delaying, dilatory, impeded, late, mentally deficient, overdue, procrastinating, regressive, retarded, retroactive, retrograde, reversed, slow, subnormal, tardy, untimely II… …   Law dictionary

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.