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I see "forgo" used quite a bit, and "forgone" is quite common too. I can't say I've ever seen or heard of "forwent" and in fact, I had to look it up to make sure it even was a word at all. Is it used much? Is there an alternative that is more common?

I suspect it's more common to say, for example, "I decided to forgo treatment" rather than "I forwent treatment." But why?

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I can imagine it being used in some humorous verse, to make it properly rhyme. – GEdgar Oct 19 '13 at 12:54
I may have used it once or twice in a jocular sense, but I don't think I've ever heard anyone else use it. (And for some reason many people don't find my "jocular sense" all that jocular.) – Hot Licks Jan 8 '15 at 17:53

Apparently not. There are only four citations for it in the whole of the OED, the most recent being dated 1596. The reason for its being seldom used is the same reason why other words are seldom used: they serve no useful purpose.

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However, the past tense of forego is forewent, which seems to mean the same thing, and was used as recently as 1884! – Matt E. Эллен Apr 25 '12 at 8:27
@Matt - Are you sure "(they) was used as recently as 1884" is well-formed English. I'm precisely wondering if "(They) have been in use since 1884" were a better way to say what you wrote? – user19148 Apr 25 '12 at 10:14
@Carlo_R. I mean "forewent was used as recently as 1884". So, no, it's not a better way. "As recently as 1884" should be read sarcastically. – Matt E. Эллен Apr 25 '12 at 10:16
@Barrie: I'm not sure about your interpretation of the OED (though I've done it myself). The complilers look for the earliest use of a word, but don't include the latest (obviously impossible); sometimes they say 'now obsolete' or similar, but otherwise you can't deduce much about current usage. – TimLymington Apr 25 '12 at 12:17
@Fixee: I can't imagine anyone saying that, other than in jest. What you would hear, at least in BrEng, would be something like 'I didn't feel well yesterday, so I could't go jogging'. In any case, my point was a generic rather than a specific one: words fall out of use when they no longer serve a purpose. The extent to which 'forgo' has actually fallen out of use could be established only by examining a number of corpora. My belief that it has done so is entirely intuitive. – Barrie England Apr 27 '12 at 6:41

I suspect it's more common to say, for example, "I decided to forgo treatment" rather than "I forwent treatment." But why?

I think there is a tendency to avoid using non-basic forms (also known as the other 'principal parts') of irregular verbs that are themselves uncommon in the present tense. I suspect this is so because people cannot remember the proper form or find it awkward. For example, the verb slay is used a lot (slaying, slays), but how often do you read slew?

As for your other question, people tend to cling fast to the original verbs in set phrases. "Forego the opportunity" is perhaps the most famous one for "forego", and you will find that Google yields 33 000 instances of the past tense "for(e)went the opportunity." So there is at least one usage of "for(e)went" that is alive and well.

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Being an avid reader of such writers as Tolkien and George R.R. Martin, I'd have to say I read the word ‘slew’ fairly frequently. Can't say the same for a verb like ‘shear’, though—I can remember hearing native speakers (Irish and American alike, possibly even a Brit here or there) say it as ‘sheared’ in the past tense/participle; but I'm not sure if I've ever heard anyone apart from Stephen Fry say ‘shore’ or ‘shorn’ in natural conversation. (Granted, I do not socialise much with sheep-shearers) – Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 20 '13 at 23:01

"Forwent" isn't used much because so few people know the word. Here is a message using the word that I posted today on facebook:

I added a layer to my torso and used liners in my gloves but forwent the balaclava. I would have been more comfortable with it.

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The most recent use of forwent is in Series One Episode 4 of Silicon Valley, which is a comedy and they add after using the term, "For which I forwent, yes that's a real word, one million dollars". I think if you used it now some might think it a literary allusion to that TV series.

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