Forbear and Forebear: Meaning, Usage and Difference

In English, there are definitely some words which could cause confusion to users of the language. Some of them look alike in terms of spelling, but they have different meanings; some sound the same in terms of pronunciation but they have different spellings while some are pronounced differently but they have same spellings.  Forbear and Forebear are examples of such words. So, let us consider Forbear and Forebear: Meaning, Usage and Difference.

Forbear and Forebear: Meaning, Usage and Difference

This post, Forbear and Forebear: Meaning, Usage and Difference, addresses Forbear and Forebear which come under the category of words referred to as Homophones. Other related categories are Homonyms and Homographs. Words that belong to each of these categories have some things in common which could be in terms of spelling or pronunciation.  Forbear and Forebear are Homophones but, beyond this, let us examine their meaning and usage. Shall we?

Forbear and Forebear

These two words are closely related yet they have distinct meanings. Let us look at each of them…


Forbear is a verb which means ‘to refrain from’ or ‘hold back from something’, as we have in these examples:

  • I hope she can forbear from pointing out that she was right.
  • We should be able to forbear one another.
  • He forbore to praise the students’ efforts, though they well deserved it.
  • Last year, the company defaulted on a huge loan from the bank which agreed to forbear from calling in its note.
  • Perpetrators of these acts must forbear from protestations of innocence while their victims forbear from revenge.
  • The agency promised to forbear on all but six of the four dozen rules that apply to the services.


When it comes to Forebear, it carries a different connotation; it means ‘ancestor’ or ‘long-dead relative’. In other words, being a noun, it refers to a person from whom one descended, an ancestor, antecedent, ascendant, root, grandparent, great grandparent, etc. as in:

  • One of his forebears/forbears received a gift of land from Henry VIII.
  • She saw the city named after her forebears/forbears.
  • He is seen as a forebear to Bolivia’s contemporary indigenous movement.
  • Thousands upon thousands of Jews were being expelled from the land of their forebears and the forebears of their forebears.
  • It is thought that the forebear of the cougar migrated from Asia into North America over the Bering land bridge approximately 8 million years ago.

 It must be noted, however, that when it comes to the noun of these two words, forbear and forebear, we can use either spelling to mean ‘ancestor’, but forebear is the more frequent of the two as in:

  • The walls were lined with portraits of his illustrious forebears (or forbears)

Forbear, on the other hand, is the only acceptable spelling for the verb which means ‘hold back’ or ‘tolerate’ as in:

  • We must forbear [not forebear] from judging people on first impressions.

Pronouncing Forbear and Forebear

The verb forbear is pronounced with the emphasis on the second syllable. The nouns forbear and forebear are pronounced alike with the emphasis on the first syllable. The past tense of the verb forbear is forbore as in:

  • He forbore to mention that he was responsible for the mistake.
  • I forbore to criticize their efforts, though criticism was well deserved.

The past participle is forborne. See the post on Regular and Irregular Verbs.

Avoiding Confusion

Clearly, and for obvious reasons, people confuse these two words; though they are easy to distinguish when one keeps in mind that a forebear is one who comes before. Forbear is perhaps easy to remember if one remembers that its corresponding noun is forbearance.

Other Related Posts

Aside this post, Forbear and Forebear: Meaning, Usage and Difference, there are other related posts that you will find interesting. You can check them out…

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