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What Is “Forgo”?

Updated on December 2, 2016Grammar

To forgo something means to do without it, or to choose to skip it. Forego is sometimes listed as a variant of forgo, but it originally meant to go before.

You’d be surprised how many things you can do without. You can do without fancy coffee beverages. You can do without social media. You can do without reading the news. You might also do without knowing what the word forgo means, but if you got to this point in the article, you already know it—to forgo something means to do without it.

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The meaning of forgo

Forgo is a verb we can use when we want to say that we’re doing without something, or are choosing not to enjoy something. If you want to lose some weight, for example, you might want to start exercising, but you could also forgo eating a lot of candy. People can decide to forgo all earthly delights and devote their lives to the pursuit of religious enlightenment.

In case you’re wondering, the past tense of the verb forgo is forwent:

They forwent the walk, and decided to go straight home.

The past participle of forgo is forgone:

If you wanted to get healthier, you would have forgone cigarettes long ago.


Forgo vs. forego

The relationship between forego and forgo is where things get tricky. If you were to look up the word forgo in Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, you would see that the word forego is listed as a variant of it. However, if you were to look up forego in the same dictionary, you would notice that it has another meaning—to go before or precede. But then, if you were to look for real usage examples of forego, you’ll find that it’s used almost exclusively as an alternative spelling for forgo:

“So maybe we should forego the fun and focus on upping her grit game.”

—The Wall Street Journal

“He could not immediately forego his wild heritage and his memories of the Wild.”

—Jack London, White Fang

As you can see, many writers use forego to mean forgo. However, some style books, including the AP Stylebook and the Chicago Manual of Style, advise against doing that. You might want to take into account the advice they give.

Foregone conclusion and the foregoing

There are two phrases in which forego has retained its distinct meaning. One of them is “foregone conclusion.” When we say that something is a “foregone conclusion”, we mean it’s certain to happen (as if the conclusion came before the event):

“But French squads do have a tendency to self-destruct if things aren’t going well, so their triumph is not a foregone conclusion.”

—Times of Malta

The other phrase where forego has retained the meaning of “going before” is the phrase “the foregoing.” It’s a phrase used in formal writing, and it means that something has already been mentioned:

“‘The foregoing goals shall be used by the board to measure the performance and effectiveness of the superintendent,’ the contract states.”

—Chicago Tribune

“What about all the enlightening (not to say emotionally moving) prose which came before He closed the door firmly? Shouldn’t this tell us how he closed the door? And if the foregoing prose does tell us, isn’t firmly an extra word? Isn’t it redundant?”

—Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

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