The following sentence is quoted from the BBC web site about how people leave their homes because of war.

People move westwards.

But, in our daily life, we would say, "People move to the west", wouldn't we?

So are both these sentences idiomatic, or is the sentence**"People move to the west"** not idiomatic?

2 Answers 2


"The West" refers to a region of the world including Western Europe and North America.

If you live in China you may travel eastwards to go to the West. If you live in Africa you may travel northwards to go the West. And if you live in Russia, you may travel westwards to go the West.

If you mean "In a westerly direction" then "westwards" is a good word to use.

In the case of people fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine, they are travelling westwards. But they might not go to "the West"

  • Thanks but I want to find out if "to" or "-wards" are interchangeable, when referring to moving towards North, South, West, East. For Instance, Can I say "He is driving/moving to the North" or Do I have to use "He is driving Northwards." In other words, my question is Would it be wrong if I said "He is moving to the North/East/West/South?
    – Yunus
    Feb 26, 2022 at 14:07
  • 1
    @yunus - They are interchangeable if your audience will understand it contextually. If you just approached me and said, I am moving to the west, (or The West as James explains above) as an American I would first think you meant you were relocating to California or Arizona or something like that. Without context, I hear The West as the western area of the U.S.. If we knew that Bob was conducting an intensive physical search of a forest for his lost wedding ring, I would understand, Bob is moving to the west, to mean that Bob was now travelling westward.
    – EllieK
    Feb 9, 2023 at 15:22
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    @yunus - What James is saying is that phrases like the the east and the west are not only used to describe directions, they can also be used to describe geographical areas, the East and the West. How they will be understood is largely contextual.
    – EllieK
    Feb 9, 2023 at 15:32

Both are correct.

We can say--

People move westwards.

People move westward.

People move towards the west.

People move in a westward direction.

People move to the westward.

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