Two Words: Forgo / Forego

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What is the difference between “forgo” and “forego”? Are these just alternate spellings of the same word?

No, these are words with distinctly different meanings. And sometimes devilishly hard to tell apart. So let’s fix that!


To forego (with an “e”) means, literally, to “go before”. That telltale syllable “fore” is our clue: It normally means in front of, or in advance of, something. We find it in words like “forefront” and “foreknowledge”.

Thus we might speak of a “foregone conclusion”, meaning a conclusion already settled, or established in advance.

Or a contract might refer to its “foregoing provisions”, meaning all those provisions previously spelled out. (“Foregoing” in this sense is similar to “preceding”.)

To forgo (without the “e”) means to give something up, to relinquish it. Perhaps I’ll forgo dessert tonight, in hope of losing weight. (Then again, maybe I won’t; that jury is still out.)

When we mix these up, it’s typically by including the “e” when we don’t need it. Thus we may say we’ll “forego” something (like dessert) when we mean forgo (relinquish).

How to remember the difference? That little “fore” (as I wrote before) is key: If we mean something goes before, then the word is “forego” (or one of its variants). Otherwise, forgo the “e”!

(This article is part of my series on words that are #worth1000pictures.)


Two Words: Forgo / Forego — 6 Comments

  1. I can see people mixing these up… in writing. Is there a distinct difference in the way they are said? I think half of these confusions come from words having the same sound. Whenever I read a word I automatically hear its sound in my head (mind?). In Bengali (and most Sanskrit derivates I know) there are no same sounding words. Since those are phonetic languages, the sound came first, so each word has its own sound, although the difference can be subtle. In English, as it is not phonetic, you can have two words with different letters but with the same sound. But ultimately language is meant to be spoken and heard, so people associate the sound with the word, and when there are more than one word, this lookup function invariably malfunctions :)))
    What do you think of that theory?

    • Fascinating that in Bengali there are no same-sounding words! I never knew that. But it makes sense, the phonetics having come first.

      Your “lookup function malfunction” theory makes sense to me. English, as you say, isn’t phonetic. In part this is because it’s a polyglot language: a soup or stew formed by dumping in ingredients from many other languages. So the inconsistencies of spelling and pronunciation are mind-boggling.

      Oh, and to the best of my knowledge, “forgo” and “forego” sound exactly the same in English.

      • It is same for Turkish, there is no two words sound the same. Note that Turkish is based on Latin alphabet and we are using it since 1st of November, 1928.

        Some other countries are using Turkish language too, like Azerbaijani, Turkmenistan and a few more middle east countries. However, their alphabet differs then us. any way we can understand and communicate with each other in speech.

  2. Speaking of subtle differences in sound… there is a o sound in Bengali, like the word Oh. There is also a oo sound, like u in the word full. There is a longer oooo sound which is like the oo in fool. I have noticed that for my wife (who is American) there is very little difference between the o sound in oh and the u sound in full. She says, and you probably do too, full as f-oh-ll. In Bengali, ও is the vowel for the o sound, whilst উ is the vowel for the short oo or u sound. And when you add these to a consonant they look very different too. Now there is this word গুরু which can be written in English as guru, which, as you know, means master/teacher, often in a spiritual context. As u and oh are close to my wife, when she said guru, it sounded like goru (g-oh-r-oo). Goru if written back in Bengali is the word গরু or গোরু (both the same, but not going into the details) which means cow. And it is often derogatory to call someone a cow, meaning dull or unintelligent (well, compared to humans that is, as cows are otherwise quite intelligent). Anyway, so long story short, as my wife couldn’t (at the time) hear/identify subtle differences in sound, she almost used a derogatory word to describe a spiritual teacher :))))))

    • @Dev, it’s my impression that for most Americans, there is a great difference between the “u” in “full” and the “o” in “oh”. Full rhymes with “bull” — not “cool” or “coal”. But maybe that is a regional difference and I’m extrapolating too much from the way I myself say it.

      Thanks for the “guru” example. In my as-yet-undisclosed new book, I discuss the dangers of importing words into a different language without first checking to see what, if anything, they may mean or sound like in that language. You’ve taken it a step further by bringing it back into the original language. Same principle!

  3. Gary, you are absolutely correct! I did not realize that “forgo” was even a word. Thanks for another good post.

    Terry Edwards

    “True learning is that which is conductive to the well-being of the world, not to pride and self-conceit, or to tyranny, violence and pillage.”

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