The Farlex Grammar Book > English Spelling and Pronunciation > Common Mistakes and Commonly Confused Words > flounder vs. founder
flounder vs. founder
What is the difference between flounder and founder?
As a verb, flounder means “to struggle or move clumsily, awkwardly, or with difficulty,” or, by extension, “to behave, act, or function in an awkward, confused, or directionless manner.” For example:
- “I never learned to swim properly, so I usually just flounder in the shallow end whenever our family goes to the pool.”
- “He floundered for a few years after college, with no real motivation or aim in life.”
(Flounder can also function as a noun, referring to various types of flatfish.)
To founder, on the other hand, means “to sink” (when talking about a ship) or, more commonly, “to fail, fall apart, or break down.” For example:
- “We began to founder after the hull struck an unseen reef beneath the water.”
- “Our project foundered when our funding was cut by the head of the department.”
- “Their relationship started to founder shortly after they moved to different states.”
(Founder can also function as a noun, meaning “one who creates or establishes something.”)
Because of its meaning “to struggle,” flounder is often used incorrectly when founder is the correct verb, as in:
- “The company floundered soon after its latest product failed to attract customers.”
- “The company foundered soon after its latest product failed to attract customers.”
Likewise, we should not use founder when describing someone or something that is struggling or behaving awkwardly. We can illustrate this difference by reworking the two previous examples:
- “The company floundered for several years after its latest product failed to attract customers.”
- “The company foundered for several years after its latest product failed to attract customers.”
Note the italicized prepositional phrase for several years. The addition of this phrase changes the overall meaning of the sentence from one of finality (in which case founder would be the correct word) to one of progression (in which case flounder is correct).
This subtle difference in meaning is likely the reason many people struggle to choose the correct word. When you’re trying to determine which is the correct spelling, remember that flounder describes a continuous or progressive action, while founder describes a finished state.
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