• 3-minute read
  • 13th November 2019

Word Choice: Fourth vs. Forth

Even if you’ve grown up speaking English, the words “forth” and “fourth” can be confusing. They sound identical when spoken and they look similar on paper. To make sure your writing is error free, check out our guide to find out what these words mean and when to use them.

Forth (Out, Away or Onward)

The word “forth” is an adverb (i.e., it modifies a verb). We use it to show that something is moving out, away, or onward from a point in space or time:

We got up at dawn and set forth for adventure!

From that day forth, we vowed to never get up at dawn again.

This word is fairly rare in modern English, though you may see it in phrases like those above. Another common use is in “back and forth” (i.e., moving in one direction and then the opposite one). For instance:

The tree swayed back and forth in the wind.

In all cases, though, “forth” is related to movement.

Fourth (Number Four in a Sequence)

“Fourth” is an ordinal number (i.e., it indicates a place in a sequence or rank). We use it when something is number four in a sequence, so it comes after “first,” “second,” and “third.” For example:

Justin was proud of coming fourth in the race.

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In less formal writing, “fourth” can be shortened to “4th.” However, you should write “fourth” in full when using it in a sentence in formal writing.

Finally, we sometimes use “fourth” to refer to a fraction (i.e., ¼ ). This is similar to how we say “a fifth” or “an eighth.” For instance:

I spend a fourth of my time correcting spellings.

This is less common in British or Australian English, where people call this fraction a “quarter” (like the 25 cent piece, which is ¼ of a dollar).

A quarter or a fourth?
A quarter or a fourth?

In all cases, though, “fourth” is related to numbers or fractions.

Forth or Fourth?

These words sound and look very similar, but try not to get them confused:

  • Forth is an adverb used to describe moving out or away from a point in space (e.g., We set forth on our journey) or onward from a point in time (e.g., From that day forth). It is always about movement.
  • We use fourth to show that something is number four in a sequence (i.e., it comes after “first,” “second,” and “third”). It can also be written as “4th” in informal writing. It is always related to the number four.

The key to telling these terms apart is remembering that “fourth” contains the word “four.” As such, if you’re looking for a term related to a number, it will always be “fourth.” And don’t forget to have your writing checked by a professional for complete confidence it is typo free.

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