People Don’t Like to Say “Forewent”

Every time I’m about to say forewent, I put on the brakes & grope for a way to recapitulate my utterance sans this awkward word. Not that this happens often, but I’m still curious — do other people feel as uncomfortable using this word as I do? Why can’t you be a regular verb, forego! Something wrong happened when intransitive go inspired the transitive forego. That’s my theory, at least. So I’ll be using the Corpus of Contemporary American English to compare frequency of usage between forego, foregone (v.), & forewent. & Google NGrams to see historical trends of usage.

Anyway, here are the numbers:


COCA hits: 381

Foregone (v.)

COCA hits: 86


COCA hits: 5

And here’s a 3-Gram mapping historical trends of usage of each verb form.

Judging by the path traced by forego (in blue), I’d say that this verb is becoming increasingly disfavored in general. Keep in mind that the NGram of foregone includes its adjectival use, for which there are 303 COCA hits, so it doesn’t mean a whole lot to see that it’s risen in usage since the 1800s. And forewent has always been pretty much at a flat-line. Here’s forewent alone so we can get a better sense of how it’s trended over time:

Not a popular word today & it seems to have been that way for a while. I can’t conclude from any of this that people tense up like I do when they have this word on the tips of their tongues, but it’s still entirely possible. Anyone else out there have any particular sentiments about this word or other ones like it?

P.S. I think after writing this I’ve become a bit more comfortable with it.

Megan L. Risdal



Filed under Linguistics

14 responses to “People Don’t Like to Say “Forewent”

  1. Chanel

    I too forewent using the word. It is logical, but not smooth… causes discomfort in those around you.

  2. Mark Mc

    old post but… I found this for the exact same reason stated. I have started to utter “forewent” and choked on the word. I wonder if the audience will think I am just making it up.

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  6. KTS

    I like to say “forewent.” Am I not a person?

  7. Hi Megan, nice post. Inflectional gaps of this type are the subject of my dissertation, which should be out in a few months. There are great gaps in:

    Hungarian, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Swedish, Norwegian, Latin, Modern Greek, Tamashek, Lavukaleve, Suriman, Russian, Kinande, Turkish, Tagalog, and Latvian! (that I know of, off the top of my head)

    In English also consider the past tense forms of “sightsee” (though “He sightsees” doesn’t sound quite right to me, so maybe it’s not a verb at all), “

  8. CL

    Yes, I think that’s exactly what happened. 🙂

    I don’t know about a tendency to move away from what’s standard… Seems like it’s more that language is constantly changing, and we happen to define the standard in a particular way that favors older ways of speaking and writing. I think the standard, as a mark of prestige, actually has a lot of power to slow linguistic innovation. Hyper-correction (e.g., “She told the secret to you and I”), is an interesting case of the opposite – where a misanalysis of the standard/prescriptive rule is introducing a new pattern (nominative case after a conjunction, regardless of sentence position).

    • Very good point! I was neglecting to acknowledge that what we consider to be “standard” is also a fluid concept. There are probably a number of reasons why standard language ideology contributes to slowing linguistic innovation, but I agree: it’s real and it’s unfortunate. I really love witnessing variety and creative usage! It’s why I enjoy collecting bits of linguistic humor in popular culture. I think everyone can enjoy and appreciate it, but somehow we still have a burgeoning population of no-fun prescriptivists.

  9. CL

    Odd that we have that hole in the paradigm there. It really sounds wrong to me…

    I did hear a guy in a coffee shop talking about a friend who “succame to temptation” though. So there’s some tendency to move towards irregularity, too, I guess.

    • Interesting. Maybe coffee shop guy did it (presumably unconsciously) to create parallelism with the past tense of “come” even though the words are unrelated. I think there’s a general tendency to move away from what’s standard. Reminds me of the dived/dove distinction. I used “dove” as the past tense of “dive” but “traditionally” it should be “dived”. Words, they are a-changin’.

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