Two Words: Foreword / Afterword

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A foreword is a brief introduction to a book or other piece of literature. (Not to be confused with “forward” motion.)

There’s no sharp dividing line between a “foreword”, a “preface”, and an “introduction”. You’ll find books (including some of mine) with all three! There also are books with opening commentaries that could justly be tagged with any of these labels.


Typically, however, a foreword is shorter than a preface or an introduction. That’s why it’s a kind of “word”. Unlike a preface or an introduction, it also typically is written by someone other than the book’s author. (Typically, but not always.)

Mostly, a foreword will be a pithy comment on the idea behind the book, or perhaps the writer’s history with the author.

Prefaces and introductions usually are written by the book’s author. An introduction normally is longer than a preface, which tends to be longer than a foreword.

“Typically”, “usually”, “normally”, “tends to be”. As I said, there aren’t any strict rules. Except one:

It’s spelled “foreword” (with an “o”), not “forward” (with an “a” and no “e”)!

The “fore” part means it goes at the very beginning (before). As noted, the “word” part implies it is, or ought to be, short and to the point.

Some books also have an “afterword”. Again, note that it’s spelled “word”, not “ward” (even though it comes afterward). It’s a relatively terse closing thought. Too long, and it ceases to be an afterword and becomes instead an epilogue.

Some online dictionaries insist that an afterword, like a foreword, typically is written by someone other than the book’s author. I’m not sure that’s accurate.

Maybe I’m generalizing from too small a sample. But I’m pretty sure most of the afterwords I’ve seen were written by the same person who wrote the book. That’s certainly true of the afterwords in my books (those that have an afterword).

Although the misuse of these words is a pet peeve of mine, I can well understand why they’re so often mixed up. My fingers want to type “forward” and “afterward” even when I mean “foreword” and “afterword”!

Scanning my bookshelf for instances, I noticed my copy of Isaac Asimov’s novel Forward the Foundation. This triggered a thought:

If I ever want to be an imp, I could write a book with an opening chapter titled “Forward” and a closing chapter titled “Afterward”. There’d be no foreword, preface, introduction, afterword, epilogue – and no chapter numbers.

Then readers as pedantic as I am would complain that I had misspelled “foreword” and “afterword”. I’d retort, “No those are just regular chapter titles, spelled correctly – the book has no foreword or afterword!”

Which goes to show either that I (a) have a rich fantasy life, (b) am easily entertained, or (c) am simply weird. (I guess these aren’t mutually exclusive.)

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


Two Words: Foreword / Afterword — 1 Comment

  1. I’m pleased you have Asimov’s Foundation novels on your shelf (or at least one of them). I used to have a poor opinion of Asimov up until my second year in college. Then a friend mildly rebuked me and said why don’t you actually read one of his books before forming your opinion. I said fine. And then I suddenly had a huge collection of his books. But mostly his robot novels that segue into his foundation novels. Well, before the robot novels were his robot short stories which slowly developed into the novels… Most people can’t believe that Asimov was inspired by Tolkien.. I couldn’t. In fact, when I read that I went to look for Tolkien’s works and picked up The Hobbit or The Lord of The Rings and was appalled by the imagery and style. I thought to myself, Asimov was inspired by this?? It took me almost twenty years to finally actually read a book by Tolkien.

    About the same amount of time ago a friend and I pondered how to make psychohistory an actual scientific discipline. We came up with various models and graphs. We didn’t go very far obviously (or that’s what I want you to believe). 😄

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