I am a bit confused as to where I should use "abandon", "forsake" and "leave". According to my searches in dictionaries:

Forsake: to leave someone , especially when you should stay because they need you.

Leave: to go away from a place or person

Abandon: 1.to leave a person especially someone you're responsible for. 2.to go away from a place , vehicle etc permanently especially because the situation makes it impossible for you to stay. ( definitions from Longman dictionary)

So it seems to me that there is a nuance here. At first glance the conclusion I drew, was that "forsake" is used when "a person" is left ,while "abandon" and "leave" are more general ,as according to definitions they are used to say "a person" or "a place" is left, but today I was reading some materials and I came across this sentence:

much of new England in the late nineteenth century presented a discouraging picture of abandoned farms and sickly villages as people forsook the countryside and rushed to the larger towns and cities

It seems a bit odd that "forsake" is used for getting across this concept that a countryside is deserted. Personally, I used to think that the use of " leave" or "abandon" would be more suitable in this case, so it made me question my former speculations about the use of these 3 words again.

Now I hope you can cast light on the difference of these 3 words.

Thanks in advance!

  • You need a good dictionary. "Abandon" and "forsake" are fairly close synonyms. But "leave" does not mean the same thing - it is mostly used to describe a temporary, or even a repeated action "He leaves home for work at 7.30 every morning".
    – WS2
    May 13, 2019 at 9:15
  • 1
    @WS2 Not necessarily. Forsake is a rather dramatic, literary word. You might say "His wife has left him', but you probably wouldn't say that she had forsaken him in everyday conversation. May 13, 2019 at 12:22
  • @KateBunting I agree that it is a dramatic literary word, sometimes carrying a strong emotive message. But I would have said "forsake" was fairly close in meaning to "abandon". But the OP does need a dictionary in order to fully master these meanings.
    – WS2
    May 13, 2019 at 21:06
  • @WS2 the definitions I provided ,are from Longman dictionary. Longman is one the reliable English dictionaries.what I asked was the difference between these words I already know that "forsake" is more formal but I wanna know if there is any semantic difference here.
    – Lara
    May 13, 2019 at 21:37
  • @Lara It is very difficult in a forum such as this to explain and teach the contexts in which different words are used. To some extent it involves wide reading and experience with the language. All I can say is that in the passage you quoted, both "abandoned" and "forsook" are used in perfectly appropriate ways. And they are so synonymous that one could exchange their positions so as to write ...sickly farms and forsaken villages, as people abandoned the countryside...
    – WS2
    May 13, 2019 at 22:28

1 Answer 1


"Abandon" and "Forsake" imply permanence. In your example the people who forsook farms and villages are not coming back. Similarly the owner of an abandoned car doesn't want it any more.

"Leave" can be both permanent ("I left home when I was 18") and temporary ("I leave home every morning at 7:30")

Although "Abandon" and "Forsake" can be applied to both places/things and persons it is more usual to find places/things abandoned and people forsaken. But, of course, your example is an exception to this generalisation. Another exception is children for whom parents cannot be found are abandoned, not forsaken.

Forsaken also has overtones of personal involvement such as in the song "Do not forsake me oh my darling" whilst abandonment is less personal, the thing is just discarded or unwanted. Again a generalisation, not a fixed rule.

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