"Foreword" Versus "Forward"

Get these two words right and learn what other book-related words mean.

Geoff Pope, Writing for
4-minute read
Episode #250


This episode addresses another often-confused pair of homophones: “forward” and “foreword.” (Notice that “forward” has an “a” and no “e,” and “foreword” has an “e” and no “a.”) We’ll also look at how forewords, prefaces, introductions and prologues differ, and how afterwords and epilogues differ..

How to Use "Forward" Correctly

First, let’s talk about “forward.” This word relates to some form of movement. Things or people move forward (to the front), are forward (brash or bold), or are forwardforward thinking (modern and progressive).

Stomping forward in her stiletto heels, the forward girl exclaimed her forward opinions.

As an adverb, an adjective, or a verb, “forward” has several meanings, but it’s used as a noun in only two instances: in sports (“The 6-foot 10-inch forward slam dunked the basketball”) and in  finance, shortened for the term forward contract (“The farmer used a forward to secure a price for his upcoming harvest”).

In Britain, they allow “forwards”; however, “forward” remains the correct American English spelling.

What Is a Foreword?

Now let’s consider “foreword.” The word is simply made of the prefix “fore-” (which means before) with “word,” thus literally meaning “before the word.” Think of it as a “word”--actually a group of words--that comes before the main words of a book. Additional words, with the same prefix, which can help us remember the right spelling for this “foreword,” include “forecast,” “foreshadow,” and “foresight.” Another way to remember how to use and correctly spell “foreword” is that “foreword” and “book” both have two o’s in them, and “foreword” is used only as a noun. In short, remember this: Books have forewords.

Here are “forward” and “foreword” in the same sentence:

Bigfoot forgot to forward the Loch Ness Monster’s foreword to the publisher. (Bigfoot eventually did forward the foreword; in other words, he later submitted his introductory part of the manuscript.)

Foreword, Preface, Introduction, and Prologue

Now that we’ve clarified the difference between “forward” and “foreword,” you might be thinking, “So then what are the differences between a foreword, preface, introduction, and prologue?”

Foreword: The foreword is written by someone other than the author of the book, usually by an authority in the field who brings credibility to the book and the author while celebrating the written work.

Preface: The preface is almost always written by the author of the book, and it usually includes the purpose and scope of the work along with information about how the idea for the book originated and how it developed. The preface may include acknowledgements of people the author wants to thank.

Introduction: The introduction is written by the author or an editor who addresses topics, themes, and details in the book. An introduction may include information regarding the contents, the author, and the audience.

Prologue: The prologue is a part of the book’s story that is revealed before the plot begins in the first chapter. One of the most well-known prologues is in The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. Pat McNees, a former editor at Harper & Row, writes that although a prologue always “starts the action” of a book, it can come from the middle of the storyline, and it “often focuses on a pivotal moment” (1).

Afterword and Epilogue

Now that we’ve clarified the terms associated with several sections that can appear before the first chapter of a book, let’s look at two words connected with sections that may appear at the end a book: afterword and epilogue.

Afterword: An afterword often contains similar content to that found in a foreword, but it appears after the last chapter. The writer of the afterword--again, preferably written by an authority on the subject of the book--might address the autobiographical, historical, cultural, and other contexts and influences of the publication (2). An afterword may also be “written in response to critical remarks on the first edition” (3).

Epilogue: An epilogue, as defined online by Merriam-Webster, is “a concluding section that rounds out the design of a literary work” as well as “a speech often in verse addressed to the audience by an actor at the end of a play” (4).

“My favorite epilogue,” said Brad, “is in Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest.’”

“My favorite afterword,” replied Kristen, “will probably be the next one written by Ray Bradbury.”

Now you know the differences and similarities between the words and meanings of “forward,” “foreword,” “preface,” “introduction,” “prologue,” “afterword,” and “epilogue.”

Geoff Pope

This script was written by Geoff Pope, whose name is pronounced like Geoffrey Chaucer’s and who teaches English at City University of Seattle. He can be found online at www.geoffpope.com. This article was edited and read in the podcast by Mignon Fogarty, author of the New York Times bestseller Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing.


1. McNees, P. (n.d.). “The Difference between a Preface, Foreword, and Introduction,” PatMcNees.com. http://www.patmcnees.com/the_difference_between_a_preface__foreword__and_introduction_52536.htm (accessed on October 26, 2010).

2. “Afterword,” Wikipedia. June 12, 2010. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afterword (accessed on October 26, 2010).

3. “Postscript,” Wikipedia.  June 12, 2010. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postscript (accessed on October 26, 2010).

4. “Epilogue,” Merriam-Webster Online. 2010 http://www.merriam-webster.com (accessed on October 26, 2010).