Form and Forum

By Maeve Maddox

A reader asks,

What is the difference in form and forum? Are they interchangeable? If not, what is the correct usage for each one?

Regarding etymology, the noun form derives from Latin forma, whose primary meaning is shape or configuration. One speaks of “the human form,” “a form of behavior,” “the forms of a verb,” and so forth.

Schools categorize students into forms, according to age or achievement. Certain types of behavior are considered “good form” or “bad form.” In our age of bureaucracy, we are frequently required to fill in the blanks on documents called forms.

The English noun forum derives from Latin forum, “open space where people gather.” When people gather for any purpose, they exchange opinions. In Roman cities, the Forum was a centrally located open space where people sold produce and goods and where political candidates gave speeches.

One of the meanings of forum in English is, “a place of public discussion.” On the Web, readers voice their opinions in a multitude of forums dedicated to various topics of discussion. Some of these forums boast memberships in the millions (figures from Wikipedia, “List of Internet forums”):

Gaia Online (anime) 27,554,643 members; 1,000,000 posts per day.

Bodybuilding 7,690,808 members; 108,244,009 posts per day.

Stackoverflow (programming) 2,700,000 members; 26,000,000 posts per day.

Here are some examples of form and forum in context:

Why is it considered bad form to put the [wine] bottle on the table when opening it?

Create a form to enter and view your data

What is the simplest form to use to file my taxes?

I propose establishing a Bitcoin peer review board [that would be] a forum of knowledgeable people that understand Bitcoin…

The Court of Public Opinion (COPO) is a Worldwide Forum of Ethics.

Creighton Hosts Open Forum with Candidates for U.S. Congress

It’s difficult to see how the nouns form and forum might be confused for one another. Speakers of some regional dialects do drag out the word form in speech, but in standard English, form is a one-syllable word. Forum is made up of two syllables.

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3 Responses to “Form and Forum”

  • ApK

    >>It’s difficult to see how the nouns form and forum might be confused for one another.

    Indeed. I had to read this article title twice. I couldn’t understand the connection.

    While we’re on the topic of ‘forum,’ are Latin plurals standard for words like this? Is it proper to say “fora” rather than “forums” or is that just a needless affectation?

  • venqax

    @ApK: Needless. And affectation. Words that have been part of English for as long as forum has been should be completely anglicized/regularized when used in a non-specialized part of everyday speech. Some foreign plurals– like formula/ae– are preserved when they are used as terms of art (as it is in math, often) but as an everyday word it is formulas. I don’t know of a specialized use of forum that would justify fora (though there may be one) so forums is appropriate. Likewise cactuses and octopuses unless you are a botanist or a marine biologist. Imagine what we’d have if every word had to retain the the characteristics of the language it came from.

  • Bobby Vee

    “Fora” would be the correct form and not an affectation. However, more and more people with ignorance of the language are published, until incorrect forms of all sorts become mainstream and deemed the acceptable spelling, grammar or style.

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