> I don't know if these threads have been around lately; sorry if
> this is a repetition.  But are toward and towards synonymous?
> Or does, say, *toward* imply direction and *towards* time?
> And beside and besides?

Interesting question.  Let's see: "toward(s)" -- How do I mean thee?
Let me count the ways:

 (a) He walked steadily toward(s) the man with the gun.
      [goal-directed continuous linear motion, object = goal]
 (b) Toward(s) midnight, things get a little rowdy downtown.
      [TIME is SPACE metaphor mapping of (a), object = terminal instant]
 (c) Toward(s) the end of the book it gets technical.
      [READING is TRAVELING metaphor mapping of (a)]

(a)-(c) sound perfectly ordinary either way (though one additional
unresolved question beside the "s" /z/) is the W. Is it pronounced
or not?  I use all of these myself:
    /tord/      /tword/
    /tordz/     /twordz/)

 (d) She's acting rather oddly toward(s) me.

Aha! I do find the "s" here a little strange, perhaps because it brings
too strong a physical sense of the motion, which is purely abstract
in this case.  The sentence is about the two people involved, not
the metaphorical transfer of behavioral information via the Conduit
Metaphor; any focus on that is wasted effort - it'll be presupposed.

But that's the only difference I can think of offhand, and it's not
very big, and it might easily be personal whim.  I'd guess the variation
isn't semantic at all, but sociolinguistic.  Oh, and I assume you have
dictionaries available.

"Beside(s)" is another matter.  The principal spatial sense is obvious
(be [at] side [of]); but it's deictic, and those are always difficult to
define (check out any dictionary on "left" vs. "right", for instance).
A lot depends on what the object is, and whether it can be said to have
a distinguished direction called a "side", or whether it simply means
'close to' without any radial or directional information.  But the
strictly physical basic meaning can't use "s":

   (e) The Barcalounger will look great beside(*s) the sofa.

Besides that meaning, though, there's a very different one that means
"in addition".  You can sort of see the dead metaphor in that, but
it's so far from its source that I'd call it a different word.  One
argument for that analysis is that you *can* use "s" with it:

   (f) The Barcalounger will look great; beside(s), we've already paid.

If we look hard enough, we might find something along these lines for
"toward(s)", too.

May I ask what context occasioned your question?  A lot of this
stuff is very context-sensitive.

 -John Lawler                     More grammar
  Linguistics Program   University of Michigan
 "..and, who knows? Maybe the horse will sing."