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Forward vs. Foreword & Afterward vs. Afterword

Since I've been talking about homonyms lately on this blog, I decided to write a brief post to explain the difference between "forward" and "foreword"—as well as the related words "afterward" and "afterword." The key is in recognizing the vowel in the last syllable: use "-ward" for directions or time, but use "-word" for additions to a text.

Forward vs. Foreword & Afterward vs. Afterword

How To Use "-Ward"

The words forward and afterward, like other terms that end in "-ward," are used to express a relative direction, position, or time. In the case of forward, it is usually referring to direction or position; it can also be used metaphorically. See these examples:

The line continued to move forward, but it was slow enough that we all got frustrated. To overcome a trauma, it is important to move forward rather than dwelling on mistakes.

In addition, forward can be used metaphorically to refer to a person or action that is direct, open, and/or revealing (i.e., pushing their interior thoughts to the front); this directness is often (but not always) portrayed as slightly overbearing, as in this example:

Because Emily is very forward, she often scares off potential new friends.

By contrast, afterward can relate to either position or time. Here are some examples:

The horses trotted through the snow, and the carriage followed afterward. "Friends" typically aired at 8 p.m. ET, with "Seinfeld" coming on an hour afterward.

Regardless, these words are not used to indicate parts of a book, as I explain below.


How To Use "-Word"

Many people—even professional writers—use forward to refer to an addition that comes before the main part of a text, but this is incorrect. Use foreword instead:

The foreword to the compilation was written by the series editor.

Similarly, use afterword only to refer to an addition that comes after the main text:

The afterword contains an evaluation of the essay's impact on subsequent research.

That's it! Even though people often mix up these homophones, it's easy to identify the correct word for a given occasion. If you are referring to words, use the version that ends in "-word"; otherwise, use the one that ends in "-ward." The only trick here is that foreword has an extra "e," but forward does not.


Have any questions? Want to request other homophones to be covered in this series? Leave a comment below! Thanks for reading.

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