25 July 2012
Grammar Bites: Forgo vs. Forego
The verbs forgo and forego are easily confused as their spelling is so similar. They are often also pronounced the same way, although forgo should have a greater stress on the second syllable and forego has an equal stress on both syllables and a slightly clearer ‘oh’ sound on the first syllable.
The Concise Oxford Dictionary has the following definitions:
Forego – precede in place or time
The foregoing paragraph made a clear case...
It is a foregone conclusion that...
William Wordsworth used this verb beautifully in Methought I saw the Footsteps of a Throne: “Pleasing remembrance of a thought foregone;”
Forgo – (1) abstain from; go without; relinquish. (2) omit or decline to take or use (a pleasure, advantage, etc.)
I will forgo the dessert, even though it looks delicious.
The band will forgo the usual pre-show drinks.
“Next to knowing when to seize an opportunity, the most important thing in life is to know when to forgo an advantage.” - Benjamin Disraeli
In common usage the spelling of these two words is often used interchangeably. This is not technically incorrect, but keep in mind the following line from the Oxford English Dictionaries Online:
“Forgo (meaning 'go without something you want') can also be spelled forego, but it is best to use the spelling forgo so as to avoid confusion with forego, which is an old-fashioned word meaning 'come before'.”
This is, by the way, an issue that has been of interest to users of English for quite some time. Fowler's Modern English Usage highlighted the use of forgo vs forego as early as 1926. Fowler’s says of the issue: “The variants forego (for forgo) and forgo (for forego) are often found but are ill-advised.”
If clear communication is the aim of your writing, it is always best to remove any opportunity for confusion. In this case it is easily done by using the spelling of forego/forgo that best clarifies your meaning. And it is easy to remember which is which simply by remembering that forego is related to before.
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