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!”