Words Beginning With For- and Fore-

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English has several words that begin with the prefixes for- and fore- Sometimes the prefix means “before” or “in front of.” Sometimes it means “outside,” a meaning derived from an Old French element related to modern French hors, as in the French borrowing hors d’oeuvre, “outside the main course.”

Perhaps the most frequently misspelled of this category is the word found at the beginning of many books: Foreword.

A book’s foreword is a preface, a brief essay not necessarily essential for the understanding of the text of a book and commonly written by someone other than the author of the text. Confusion arises from the existence of the adjective forward.

As an adjective, forward is used to describe something that is in front of or ahead of something else. On a ship, things located towards the front are said to be forward, for example, the “forward hold.” A “forward child” in a positive sense is a clever child, precocious for its years. In a negative sense, a “forward child” is like the ones on television who exchange quips, insults, and double entendres with adults; again, the sense is that the child is ahead of its years.

The three verbs forecast, foretell, and foresee all mean “to predict” or “to prophesy,” but have different connotations:

The weatherman forecast showers for Monday. (prediction based on analysis of data)
The gypsy foretold Gwen’s marriage to a rancher. (prediction based on mysterious knowledge)
Harold’s business experience enabled him to foresee the consequences of his partner’s decision. (prediction based on personal experience)

Some other verbs beginning with fore- in which the sense is “happening before” are:

forebode: to announce beforehand.
Forebode and forbid come from OE verbs with similar meanings. Forbid now means “to command a person not to do something.” Forebode means to announce ahead of time. The word forbode carries a connotation of dread, for example, “Vanishing act of middle class forebodes turbulent time.”

The verb bode, on the other hand, means simply “to predict” or “to give promise of something” and may be used in either a positive or a negative context:
Stephen Colbert’s Super-Charming ‘Late Show’ Appearance Bodes Well for His New Gig.
Scottish independence does not bode well for its economy

foreordain: to determine in advance.
“His hostility drives the drama in the first act, and his frenetic dancing in the second makes his demise seem foreordained.”

forewarn: to warn or caution in advance.
This quotation from Charles Kingsley has become a proverb: “To be forewarned is to be forearmed,” (i.e., knowledge of what is about to happen is like having a weapon with which to defend yourself).

In the following nouns the prefix has the sense of “before”:

forelock: A lock of hair growing from the fore part of the head, just above the forehead.
In old novels you’ll find references to farm workers and other social inferiors touching or tugging their forelocks to show respect to their superiors: “There was plenty of bobbing from the girls and pulling of forelocks from the boys.” The expression “to take opportunity by the forelock” means to take advantage of a situation as aggressively as possible: “He seized opportunity by the forelock and secured the best aid possible in his business…”

forefather: an ancestor, one who has come before.

foresight: The action or faculty of foreseeing what must happen. For example, “[Jacob Little] had unusual foresight, which at times seemed to amount to prescience.”

In the following verbs, the prefix is from the French borrowing that meant “outside”:

forbear: to abstain or refrain from
“The defendants were asked to forbear to arrest Mr. Swift.”

forswear: to swear falsely; to abandon or renounce
“As waggish boys in game themselves forswear,
So the boy Love is perjured everywhere.” –A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I, i, 240-241.

forfeit: to lose the right to; give up
“The execution of a murderer does not violate his right to life, because he forfeited that right when he committed a murder.” –John Locke

forget: to lose remembrance of

forgive: to give up resentment

forsake: to give up, renounce

foreclose: to preclude, hinder, or prohibit (a person) from (an action). Although spelled fore-, the prefix in foreclose has the “out” meaning, as in “to shut out.”

Finally, there are two words that look almost alike, but have quite different origins:

forebear (noun): An ancestor, forefather, progenitor (usually more remote than a grandfather).
This noun is formed from the prefix fore- (before) and an old word, beer. This beer has nothing to do with the beverage. Instead, it comes from the verb to be. A be-er is one who exists. A forebear existed before you did.

forbear (verb): to abstain or refrain from something.
“Woman, forbear that weeping!”

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13 thoughts on “Words Beginning With For- and Fore-”

  1. Danny,
    “forego” means “to go before.” The archbishop must forego the bishop in the procession.

    “forgo” means “to abstain from or to go without.” Because of her vow, she must abstain from food that contains sugar.

  2. Maeve, you have just barely missed an important one: “forepart”. See:

    In American English, at least, “forepart” and not “fore part”.
    E.g. “After the collision, the entire forepart of the airplane fell off, and it soon became unflyable.” “In rough weather, the forepart of the USS HORNET broke off and plunged to the bottom of the ocean, but her crew was able to take the rest of the aircraft carrier into San Diego for repairs.”

    Also “foreskin”. According to legend, Abraham used a sharp stone to cut off his foreskin as a sign of fealty to the Lord.

  3. Other words from anatomy: “forefinger”, “forehead”, and “forebrow”.
    E.g. Neanderthal men and women had prominent forebrows.

    Oddly, in a prominent online dictionary, “forebrow” gives neither a definition nor a note “This word is not found.”
    I wrote a note to the managers to ask them, “Why on earth?”

  4. In the case of the USS HORNET, in 1944 or ’45, not only her bow broke off, but also the forward part of her flight deck. This happened west of California while she was on a voyage from Hawaii to San Diego for a routine overhaul and shore leave for her sailors and aviators.

    In case you are interested, the HORNET still exists, and she is a memorial ship kept at Oakland-Alameda, California. The HORNET was also the recovery carrier for Apollo 11 and Apollo 12. I have visited the ship in Alameda, and I had a fascinating time there.

  5. Good topic. The for/fore confusion pops up when it’s at the end of words, too. E.g. someone (bluebird?) recently made reference to the difference between therefore and therefor. So, in addition to being forewarned of the forward for, where the for is to the fore, one must also forethink the aftward for where the for is more stern, or he may forthink his choice forthwith.

  6. @venqax: Thanks for the honorable mention, but I don’t think I was the one who referenced a difference between therefor and therefore.
    …and was I the only one waiting for “Foreplay”? Oh wait, that’s Fourplay, the jazz quartet…never mind…

  7. Words from zoology and sports with “fore”.

    The “forepaws” of many kinds of mammals. E.g. “Our cat used its forepaw to scratch its forehead, which was itching.”

    The “forehand” in tennis. “Steffi Graf had the best forehand of any woman tennis player, ever.”

    The golfer called out “fore” before hitting a long drive stroke.

  8. Despite the claims of many “conspiracy theorists”, nobody in the U.S. Government foretold the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor of December 7, 1941.

    Nobody foretold Osama bin Laden’s attacks on the World Trade Center or the Pentagon, either.

    Sometimes, I wish that the “conspiracy theorists” would forswear their false claims and forbear from saying anything more about them.

  9. Are “conspiracy theorists” not real conspiracy theorists but just pretend like they are, or something? Do they get together, secretly, and agree to act like a conspiracy? Or maybe that is what they want you to think.

  10. @venqax: No, they get together and agree to act like THEORISTS LOL…at least, in theory….

  11. @bluebird: Shhhh….we’ve already said too much.

    “Ya got that ya hayseeds? We’re usin’ code names.”
    Raising Arizona

  12. Thank you, thebluebird11.
    Venqax does not understand that “conspiracy theorists” is short for “so-called conspiracy theorists”.

    It is like the “so-called Karl Marx Institute of Economics” that used to be in East Berlin.

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