I saw the word foe in a book and the word enemy in a comic-book. Is there a difference between these two words? Maybe foe is more similar that adversary, opponent, rival.

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Dictionary says that foe = enemy. But then if I recall all the instances, 'foe' is the word used in journalism, news or more politically where 'enemy' would be considered rude or offensive. So, 'foe' is a polite way to say 'enemy'!

Note that the dictionary mentions 'foe' as an old-fashioned or formal term.

The word 'adversary' does mean 'enemy' but it also means an opponent that does not necessarily be your enemy; so is with rival which also means someone who competes.

To conclude, use these words carefully. They are not always interchangeable.

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    "Foe" also appears in idioms, like "friend or foe". – Victor Bazarov Oct 8 '15 at 12:00
  • I'd say that foe is a more dignified term than enemy. You can say that someone is a worthy foe. – 200_success Nov 30 '15 at 11:22

They mean (roughly) the same, but they are not the same word.

Consider powerful car and strong car. We usually use powerful car rather than strong car, even though strong and powerful (usually) mean the same thing. (The same goes for strong/powerful tea/computer/drug/etc.) One choice usually sounds better in a given occasion/register/context.

It's not easy to point out all the possible subtleties of words in all possible uses, especially when it's used with other words. My general idea for the two words is: enemy is a common word; foe is generally used in literary language.


Additional information: I posted this answer because I wanted to point out that it's more than about the word itself (besides a concern about "'foe' is a polite way to say 'enemy'!" in another answer, which could be misleading as well). Our choices of words are usually influenced by collocation and contexts. Simply stating that "'foe' is the word used journalism, news or more politically where 'enemy' would be considered rude or offensive", though somewhat true (more or less), could be misleading.

Consider this phrase: enemy of the state. We normally use enemy of the state. Calling someone a foe of the state may be possible, but it would sound somewhat uncommon, unless it's used together with other collocates, e.g. He's neither friend nor foe of the state.

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    PS. I posted this answer because I don't really think that "'foe' is a polite way to say 'enemy'", unless "polite way" is used to mean "euphemism", but "polite way" and "euphemism", again, are not the same. – Damkerng T. Oct 8 '15 at 12:04
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    Strong is utterly different than powerful to me. A thread can be strong but never powerful. And, I used the exclamatory mark - humor intended, if, by chance, you missed it! – Maulik V Oct 8 '15 at 12:07
  • @MaulikV Strong is utterly different from powerful to you--that's good for you! I take it that you can handle the nuances between the two words well, even though it's common for learners to misuse the two words; it's also common that people use the two words interchangeably in some occasions; some dictionaries define powerful as strong, and your favorite one also defines strong as very powerful. – Damkerng T. Oct 12 '15 at 5:09

FOE: A person who appears to be close to you and befriends you just to be in the place where they can destroy you and/ or your character ( A friendly foe) ENEMY: A person who is outright against you and is willing to war with you to dominate you.

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