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Forego vs. forgo

The original definition of forego is to go before. This definition is easy to remember because both forego and before have the syllable fore, with an e. To forgo, meanwhile, is to do without (something) or to pass up voluntarily. But forgo has so completely encroached on forego‘s territory that the latter’s older sense is now essentially lost (outside legal contexts and the phrase foregone conclusion—see below), and forgo now bears the secondary definition to go before.

The past-tense forms of these verbs are forewent and forwent. Foregone and forgone are the past participles.

Examples

In searching, we had difficulty tracking down even a few instances of forego in its more traditional sense. Forego is almost always an alternative spelling of forgo, as in these cases:

The Democratic-controlled U.S. Congress could forego trying to approve a budget blueprint this year. [Reuters]

Faith is willing to forego permanency in this world, because faith lives for the future reality. [Big God, Britt Merrick]

Unions representing the county’s 8,000 workers agreed to forego cost-of-living raises for the next two years. [Baltimore Sun]


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Foregone conclusion

Forego is preserved in the common phrase foregone conclusion, which refers to an outcome that is assured in advance. Forgone conclusion does appear some of the time, but the more logical spelling is much more common.

Examples

According to Jonathan Powell, of Positive Weather Solutions, a white Christmas for all of us in Britain is now “a foregone conclusion”. [Telegraph (UK)]

Yet, as Lee also knew, Confederate defeat was no foregone conclusion. [General Lee’s Army, Joseph Glatthaar]

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Comments

  1. Philip TAYLOR says:

    Difficult vs. impossible. Surely you found it impossible to track down any instances of forego used in its traditional sense; had you found it only difficult, as you wrote, you would have adduced those that you did find, would you not ?

    • Not sure what you’re getting at here. Surely it is not impossible to find instances of “forego” used in the traditional sense. As the old sense of “forego” is listed in every dictionary we checked (and the OED has a dozen or so examples, if you need them), we presume examples are out there, though we might have go to historical texts to find them. Doing this would certainly be possible, and perhaps we will for a future revision of this post. At the time of writing this post, though, we must have felt that putting our energies elsewhere would be more worthwhile.

      We dread how our comments sections would look if people started picking apart our every word choice, though we understand that the nature of this site makes us an appealing target for that sort of thing.

  2. My favorite example of a correct usage of “forego” is in reference to the great racehorse of that name. His owner considered naming him “Forgo,” which used the initial letters from the names of his sire and dam, Forli and (Lady) Golconda. However, she eventually settled on the name “Forego” before she preferred the meaning of “to go before” over that of “to go without.”

  3. Proper use of “forego” has found a home in legal contracts, where the phrase ‘notwithstanding the foregoing’ has become a frequently used riff. Being very useful this context, I can’t imagine forgoing it any time soon.

  4. Claudzilla says:

    It’s still nt clear to me how would forego be used as present tense verb. “All instances of malice forego instances of kindness, predating them by at least a decade” – like that?

  5. Robert Johnson says:

    The grammarist is right. I would add further that there must be no “e” in fordo, fordoing or fordone when meaning destroy or ruin. Though some lexicons treat “foredo” as another spelling for fordo, they are in error. Mistaking “for-” with “fore-” because they sound alike in today’s less inflected English is undertsandable. Yet all words which properly should be written “fore-” (with an “e”) do so as a way to mark what was a long vowel or accented syllable in Old English, and the meaning is quite different. Anglo-Saxon long for- means [be]fore or in front of; cf. German vor-. However Anglo-Saxon /or (unaccented syllable) as well as German ver- and other words in Germanic tongues like them do not mean “before” or “in front of.” They cannot and should not be marked long in words today by adding an “e,” lest one confound and “fordo” their meaning.

    Such words as forbid, forbear, fordo, forfend, forgather, forgive, forget, forgo, forleave, forlorn, forsake, forsooth, forspend, forswear, forworn should not be written “forebid,””forebear,” “foredo,” “forefend,” “foregather,” “foregive,” “foreget,” “forego,” “foreleave,” “forelorn,” “foreworn,” “foresake,” and so on.
    Note that forbear and forebear are 2 words whose meanings are not the same. The first means to endure and the second means an ancestor. Forego is not a proper variant of forgo. Forgoing means putting aside or doing without, whereas foregoing means preceding, coming before. This is acc. to A.S. sources quoted by Ebenezer Thomson [1858]. Likewise, fordo means destroy or ruin; but “foredo” properly does not mean that. It really means “to put before, prefer” (something). And so on.

  6. ChefMaddog says:

    Is that your friend there in the woodchipper? Oh wait, that’s Fargo.

  7. BillyBobSpeaks says:

    Interesting. Until this morning, I have always used “forego” without giving it a thought. “Forgo” looks like a misspelling for a town in North Dakota.

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