Commonly confused words: forbear/forebear, forgo/forego, forward/foreword

Looking forward to the new year? Perhaps you’re planning to forgo (or should that be forego?) a relaxing holiday and replace it with a disciplined approach to some new lifestyle habits? Perhaps those around you will need to show a little forbearance (or should that be forebearance?) as you try to settle into a new routine . . .

These pairs of words commonly confuse people but there is an easy way to help remember which one means what.  The three words that begin with fore– (forebear, forego, foreword) all refer to something that goes before something else, so you just have to remember if you are talking about something that is before something else, you use the fore– version.  (There is no common thread that links the three words that start with for– .)

A forebear is an ancestor; someone who lived or came before you did:

  • Many of many forebears were originally from Ireland.

My father and grandfather (at left): my forebears

Sadly, we do not have a matching word afterbear to mean descendants (we possibly should).

To forbear is completely different; it means to hold back from something, to refrain from doing something, and also to show restraint or patience:

  • She forbore from answering his teasing questions.
  • With considerable forbearance, she let the teenagers organise their party.

To forego means to go in front of something:

  • The foregoing explanation should be enough to make the meaning clear but perhaps this example will also help.

To forgo means to go without:

  • She forwent chocolate while she tried to lose another five kilos.

Forward and foreword are rarely confused, until people write a book. Forward means ahead, the opposite of backward, as most people know. A foreword is the word (or several hundred words) introducing a book: the foreword is thus the word that goes before the rest of the book. Technically, a foreword is written by someone who is not the author of the book; the idea is that someone more famous is asked to write a foreword, with the hope that their reputation will attract readers to the book by the less well-known author.

  • I’m looking forward to reading her foreword to his book.

May you now go forward, confident you will forgo all confusion with these words that you will now forbear from muddling up for ever more!

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