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Is the following correct, or is there more to it?

"I forgot his name" — I knew his name, but I forgot it.

"I forget his name" — I keep forgetting his name. Where using "forget" basically means that you tried to remember this information before as well, but you couldn't then either.

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8 Answers

up vote 13 down vote accepted

I forgot his name

means that at some time past, I no longer remembered his name, but leaves open whether I can currently remember it.

I forget his name

can be construed in a couple of different ways:

  • I forgot his name and I still can't remember it (but I hope you know who I'm talking about even so).
  • I keep on forgetting his name.

Both are valid; the context might disambiguate between the two.

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I forget always sounds less educated though. –  David M Feb 22 at 14:22
    
@DavidM: "I forget my name, but I am a merchant banker" from Monty Python is a normal educated locution (if you are forgetful). –  TimLymington Feb 22 at 15:26
    
This answer is simply wrong. It's incorrect to use "I forget his name" to mean "I forgot his name and I still can't remember it (but I hope you know who I'm talking about even so)." Correct ways to say this would be "I can't remember his name" or "I've forgotten his name." –  Ben Crowell Feb 23 at 2:05
    
@BenCrowell: obviously, I disagree with you, but each to their own dialect of English. –  Jonathan Leffler Feb 23 at 2:10
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You're more or less right. I would however make a slight change to the second definition:

"I forget his name" - I do not remember his name at the moment - it's slipped my mind, but may come back to me soon/at some point. Alternatively, it is idiomatically equivalent to "I forgot his name".

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To me, this is definitely the best answer (of the ones present as I write this) because no answer is complete without mentioning the idiomatic usage of "I forget". When most people use this phrase, what they really mean is "I forgot" or "I've forgotten". –  John Y Jul 21 '12 at 14:24
    
@JohnY: Indeed. I think the issue here is that the verb has a slightly imprecise meaning. "Forgetting" is a passive action, and usually not momentary, so the time at which it occurs is usually very ill-defined. I suppose that's why using the present or preterite tense makes sense -- the forgetting simply occurred "at some point before right now". –  Noldorin Jul 21 '12 at 16:31
    
"I forget his name" is simply wrong in this context. –  Ben Crowell Feb 23 at 2:07
    
@BenCrowell: No, it's not. Both prescriptively and in common usage, it's correct. –  Noldorin Feb 23 at 19:14
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I forgot his name

means I've permanently forgotten, while

I forget his name

means I've temporarily forgotten even though I expect to be able to remember. In a few more minutes I'll probably remember. See also the phrases "slipped my mind" or "the tip of my tongue".

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Why the downvote without a helpful explanation :( @DougT: "I forgot his name" does not necessarily mean "I've permanently forgotten", if at all, so you should edit your answer accordingly. –  Jimi Oke Jan 15 '11 at 16:34
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Supplementing, not supplanting Jonathan Leffler's good answer: I've forgotten his name is a less ambiguous and thus IMO better way of saying "I forgot his name and still don't remember it", and is often what people mean when they say I forgot his name (substituting the past for the past perfect as people often do).

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Before you even say "I forget" (for the case when you can't remember his name at that moment), the time of you "forgetting" has already past. His name isn't -going- from your mind that moment; it's -gone- out of you mind at that moment. Therefore, I think that the only time you should say "I forget" is when you regularly can't remember something.

The same is for running. Right after you finish a race you don't say "I run," you say "I ran." Furthermore, even when your are running you don't say "I run," you say "I am running." I run only works as an answer to some question like "What do you do when..." or to say you run regularly.

The same works for the -to be- verb. You don't say "I am the president" right after your term runs out. You only say "I am the president" during your term.

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I think forgot is generally more correct over forget, but perhaps "I've forgotten" is the most correct in all cases. No one ever asks the question 'do you forget his name?' They ask 'DID you forget his name?' making forgetting something that always happens in the past.

Person 1: "Did you seriously forget his name?"

Person 2: "Yeah, I forgot it?" (using forget here doesn't follow the format of the question)

However, in a narration it can work to say "forget":

"So there was this one guy--I forget his name--but he..." (here using forgot would seem to imply you now remember his name)

*Note that I've forgotten works with both cases.

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The perfect does not work for both cases here, only for the second (it is equivalent to the present in this particular idiomatic phrase). “Did you seriously forget his name?” refers to something done at a single point in the past and cannot be answered with “Yes, I've forgotten it”. That simply does not compute. Had the question instead been, “Have you seriously forgotten his name?”, the perfect would be the only possible answer. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 30 at 0:40
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Forget means I do not remember

Forgot means I did not remember (and now you do)

So let's say you missed an appointment you had yesterday with your friend. Telephone rings, friend asks: Hey buddy where were you? Answer: Shoot I forgot (and not shoot I forget)

Now let's say you have an appointment but can't remember when. You call your friend and ask,

Sorry, I forget when our appointment is, do you remember?

and not: Sorry, I forgot when our appointment is.

To expand, lets say in the last example your friend responds: You dummy, it was yesterday.

You reply: Sorry, I forgot (not Sorry, I forget).

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Neither of the examples given in the question is really a correct or idiomatic for the most common situation, which is where you want to say that you can't remember the name right now. The correct and idiomatic ways to say that are:

I've forgotten his name.

I can't remember his name.

The possibilities mentioned in the question are wrong for this situation.

I forgot his name.

This one is only correct if for some reason you're focusing on the act or time at which the memory was lost, or describing a failure to remember something in the past. Examples: "I forgot his name a long time ago." "I forgot to go to the meeting yesterday."

I forget his name.

This is a common informal way of saying "I've forgotten his name." It's not correct if used for that meaning. The only way it could be correct is if you're trying to express the idea that the act of forgetting is repetitive or ongoing: "Every time I see his face, I draw a blank and forget his name."

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