Q&A: Forgo or forego?

Each week here at the Australian Writers’ Centre, we dissect and discuss, contort and retort, ask and gasp at the English language and all its rules, regulations and ridiculousness. It’s a celebration of language, masquerading as a passive-aggressive whinge about words and weirdness. This week we decide to forgo the foregone conclusion…

Q: Hi AWC, I’ve been binge-watching lots of TV shows lately.

A: We’re glad you’re spending your time wisely.

Q: So, anyway, I really loved Fargo – have you seen it?

A: The TV series? Yes. Excellent writing. Lots of snow.

Q: Agreed. And it got me thinking about the word “forgo”…

A: Wow, these segues are getting thinner by the week. So you’re telling us that THIS is how you’ve decided to bring up a question on the word “forgo”?

Q: Whoa, fair go. I did also consider starting with “forgot” and just dropping the T…

A: Sigh… Never mind, let’s get to the question then.

Q: Well it’s fairly straightforward. If I’m giving up something, is it “forgo” or “forego”?

A: We’ll let you off the hook only because it’s a fairly decent question. The word you’re after in this scenario is indeed “forgo”. An example would be: “The protester decided to forgo eating for a week.”

Q: What were they protesting?

A: They were protesting stupid questions in response to imaginary examples.

Q: Touché…

A: So “forgo” is a verb and means to go without something, or refrain from something.

Q: Got it. So we might also say: “The school’s fundraising committee decided to forgo their usual fete this year and were later brutally murdered by disgruntled students.”

A: We’re not sure about the dark turn that your example took, but yes, grammatically it’s spot on.

Q: Excellent. And hey, if they wouldn’t meet their fete, they had to meet their fates…

A: So let’s now look at “forego”.

Q: Wait, what? There is ALSO a word “forego”? This is like that time I found out I had a twin sister.

A: Were you separated at birth?

Q: No, nothing like that. It was just something I realised one day after years of getting presents and having parties on the same day. Who knew, right?

A: Um. Okay.

Q: You were talking about “forego”…?

A: Ah yes. It’s a verb meaning “to go before”. And the past tense is the even lesser used “forewent”.

Q: I can practically see the dust coming off these words. So, an example?

A: Yeah, it’s pretty much confined to legal settings these days, like: “The foregoing documents explain the actions of the students upon hearing about the postponed fete.”

Q: I’m just glad to hear they’re getting some legal counsel.

A: The one term we DO use a lot from this meaning is “foregone conclusion” – where the result is already known before.

Q: Isn’t that the name of David Brent’s band in Life on the Road – the follow up movie to Ricky Gervais’s The Office?

A: You really have been binge-watching haven’t you?

Q: So to recap, “foregoing” means going before, while “forgoing” means going without. Yes?

A: That’s a great way to think of it. The “fore” is easy to remember when linking to “before”, while you might say that the protester “forgot” to eat that week.

Q: I’ve seen each word meaning the same thing in some dictionaries. It’s a bit confusing.

A: It can be. Due to the archaic nature of “forego”, a lot of people now use that for the “going without” meaning these days too. But if you want to stick to the rules, it’s easier for each to have its own job.

Q: I’m going to forgo having the last word this week.

A: Good for you.

If you have a grammar gripe or punctuation puzzle that you’d like our Q&A to explore, email it to us today!

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