Forte

In English, forte is two different words. When it comes from the French adjective meaning strong, it is a noun referring to something in which one excels. For example, an accountant’s forte might be math, and a novelist’s forte might be inventing characters. When forte comes from Italian, it is a musical term directing a performer to play loudly. It’s also an adjective or an adverb used to describe loud playing, and it is occasionally a noun referring to forte performance (see the last example below).

Both words are usually pronounced FOR-tay in English. While this roughly reflects the Italian pronunciation, the word in French is pronounced fort, and in fact forte is a femininization of the masculine adjective fort, which is pronounced for in French. This doesn’t mean careful English speakers should use the French pronunciation, though, as that might just confuse people.

Examples

Anshaw’s forte as a writer is to show how most of us stumble through life without the help of a road map. [Independent]

Where high forte singing above the passaggio is required, encourage singers to use a large mouth and the vowels that produce a lowish, backish tongue position. [Prescriptions for Choral Excellence]

Complicated diplomatic politics had never been his forte. [Cricket Country]

He provided a splendid example of singing forte – fortissimo – without bellowing. [New York Sun]

She is heralded as a whiz in the kitchen, with Christmas cake a particular forte, and an expert at crochet. [The Australian]

Everything was sung in a firm but coarse forte more suited to verismo than bel canto. [Telegraph]

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