Forte and Forebearer: Let’s Get This Straight


Castle Fort

Some time ago, I  posted an article on homophones that begin with f. Among those were forebear, which we often confuse with the verb forbear, and forte. Both words have been the source of some controversy, so I thought I’d give them a little more attention. There’s also another set of homonyms that I failed to include: forgo and forego.

Forebear or Forebearer?

There’s some debate about the validity of forebearer as a word. Some argue that it is merely an ignorant mispronunciation of the noun forebear (they mean the same). But this mistake was first recorded in the mid-1800s and has been repeated so often since that that many dictionaries now recognize it. Some list forebearer “an uncommon variant of forebear.” To be safe, I’d stick with forebear, as in “One of my forebears was a Supreme Court justice.”

How to Pronounce Forte

Until recently, I always pronounced forte with two syllables: for-TAY. But, technically, that’s only the correct way to pronounce the musical term meaning “loud.” The everyday usage meaning “area of strength or expertise” is more correctly pronounced fort. Seriously. I’d always heard it pronounced for-TAY. Of course, because this mispronunciation has become so common, it is now listed as a secondary pronunciation in several dictionaries.

So, if you want to impress people with your knowledge (a.k.a., be obnoxious), feel free to pronounce it fort and then scoff when someone says, “I thought it was pronounced for-TAY.”

The correct pronunciation of obscure words is my forte.

Forgo and Forego

Thanks to Mark Nichol’s article on these words in his Daily Writing Tips blog.

Forgo means to go without. Forego means to go before. It’s easy to confuse these homophones, but the use of forego is quite rare. Much more common are its forms foregone (as in foregone conclusion) and foregoing. One almost never sees the past form forewent.

  • On Fridays during Lent, many Catholics forgo meat.
  • Pay attention to the foregoing statement.

And now, some alliterative nonsense for your enjoyment:

Far from Fargo, I foraged in the florid forbidden forest, then forged on to ford a fiord. Fluid formed on my forehead and forearms as  I formed a formula. Faced with a foregone future, I forgot my fated fortune. Fed by fortitude, I forbore fun and fortune and fled to the fort to follow my forbears. Forensics was not my forte.


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About the Author

Brian WaskoBrian is the founder and president of One of his passions is to teach young people how to write better.View all posts by Brian Wasko

  1. Kirk Alcond
    Kirk Alcond07-01-2015

    Hi Brian, fascinating article… I am 75 years old and from Philadelphia where the normal American pronunciation of forte was always, and still is, for-tay. It is originally derived from Latin, and in spite of young dictionary editors who like to copy one another, its meaning of “strength” came from Italy in the 1700’s, and fencing, where you parry with the inner half of the blade (the forte), because it’s stronger than the outer half, the foible. This etymologie was gained from a three volume set of Webster’s Third, Unabridged International Dictionary, that I bought when I was at Temple University in 1951. It was, and I find still is, the largest, most comprehensive American dictionary available, containing over 472,000 entries, and 140,000 etymologies describing word origins. I found this interesting back then, and remember it to this day because I was on the fencing team at that time.

  2. St. Ralph
    St. Ralph01-31-2014

    Elaine, your etymology is fictional.

  3. Elaine Togeretz
    Elaine Togeretz05-29-2013

    I don’t agree with your preference for “forebear” instead of “forbearer”. Women bear children… therefore they are bearers of children. Therefore I believe one of my forebearers was a supreme court judge. And it was not a bear but a person.

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