Forth and Fourth

Commonly Confused Words

forth and fourth
The fourth man walked back and forth. (Daly and Newton/Getty Images)

The words forth and fourth are homophones: they sound the same but have different meanings.


The adverb forth means onward in time, place, or order. It appears in the expressions "and so forth" and "back and forth."

The adjective fourth refers to the ordinal number between third and fifth. Fourth may also refer to a musical tone or a gear on a vehicle.


  • "The instant she decided to move, her bottled excitement burst forth."
    (John Updike, "Incest." The Early Stories: 1953-1975. Knopf, 2003)
  • "Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans."
    (President John F. Kennedy, Inaugural Address, 1961)
  • "Upon first contact, the smell was acrid and offensive, but by the second or third whiff it was acceptable enough, and by the fourth or fifth, downright agreeable."
    (Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume. Bantam, 1984)
  • "But now in her second job, in her fourth year of teaching in the Midwest, Zoë was discovering something she had never suspected she had: a crusty edge, brittle and pointed."
    (Lorrie Moore, "You're Ugly, Too." The New Yorker, 1990)

Idiom Alerts

  • The expression and so forth means and so on and more of the same.
    "The user can select a background picture from a large gallery of settings (forests, fields, town squares, construction sites, underwater scenes, and so forth); one's own pictures can also be imported."
    (Robert J. Porter, "Superheroes in Therapy." Using Superheroes in Counseling and Play Therapy. Springer, 2007)
  • The expression to hold forth means to talk about a subject (usually for a long time).
    "When the boys were young we used to lie with them at night, one of us to each of them, and as I'd hum wordless lullabies to mine, his warm head pressed against my chest, across the room my husband, suddenly expansive, would hold forth on basic facts about the world: the longest river, highest mountain, fastest man."
    (Katharine Haake, That Water, Those Rocks. University of Nevada Press, 2002)
  • The expression to set forth means to begin a journey or to explain or present some information.
    - "The first time I ever set forth on the streets of Paris, I was with a friend, a woman who occupied a high position in the international organization for which I worked."
    (Mary Ladd Gavell, "The Rotifer." Psychiatry, 1968)
    - "In a sweeping directive in April, Saudi Arabia set forth plans to diversify its economy, reduce its dependence on oil and pull back on its government handouts."
    (Stanley Reed, "Saudi Oil Chief Khalid al-Falih Tells OPEC Changes Are Coming." The New York Times, June 2, 2016)


    (a) "Scouting rises within you and inspires you to put _____ your best."
    (Juliette Gordon Low)

    (b) Jake's _____ grade class was given an assignment to draw something interesting that can be found inside the house.

    Answers to Practice Exercises

    Answers to Practice Exercises: Forth and Fourth

    (a) "Scouting rises within you and inspires you to put forth your best." (Juliette G. Low)

    (b) Jake's fourth grade class was given an assignment to draw something interesting that can be found inside the house.