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.)