The Grammarphobia Blog

A foregone conclusion

Q: I’m a copy editor and I have a question about the word “forego.” I’ve always thought that it derives from “foregone,” as in “foregone conclusion,” and that it needs to keep that middle “e.” But I frequently see it spelled “forgo,” which looks either sloppy or erroneous (or both). Your opinion?

A: There are two separate verbs here: “forego,” which means to go before, and “forgo,” which means to go without. They have their own histories and meanings going back to the days of Old English. But people have used the two words interchangeably in recent years, blurring the distinction, which is too bad.

Some newer dictionaries have thrown in the towel. Cowards! The most recent editions of both The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary now list the spellings as mere variants of one another.

As for the respective adjectives: You used the expression “foregone conclusion” correctly, since the implication is that the conclusion was obvious ahead of time (it came before). If something is “forgone,” it’s given up. (“His doctor advised him to forgo alcohol, but it was unlikely that much booze would be forgone.”)

Hope this isn’t muddying the waters further.

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