Founder or flounder?

Founder or flounder?

These two verbs - or doing words - are really easy to confuse.

In fact, I always used to have to think twice about the difference.

But I’ve come up with a way that’s helped me quickly remember which is which - and I wanted to share it with you.

But first - what do these two similar words actually mean?

Let's start with flounder.

This word can be used in a variety of ways, but always with negative connotations, meaning to experience difficulties or indecision or to move awkwardly or clumsily.

So for example, we could say:

The student was floundering at school because of problems at home

In other words, the student wasn’t doing well at school. Or:

When asked about the scandal, the politician floundered about, lost for words.

He floundered around on the ice before crashing into another skater.

Founder is often used of boats, meaning to sink. For example:

The ship foundered on the rocks.

But it’s also used more widely, meaning to generally be unsuccessful. For example:

The idea foundered in the face of general apathy.

In other words, the idea failed because of apathy.

So it’s easy to see why founder and flounder are so often confused.

Because they both have negative connotations of failure and physical awkwardness.

For example, you can imagine a sentence like this:

The business was floundering in 2006 and eventually foundered after the financial crisis.

In other words, the business wobbled or experienced difficulties in 2006 but survived until it eventually failed after the crisis.

Now, most people probably won’t pick up on the difference between founder and flounder, but careful readers will.

So how do you make sure you pick the right verb?

Here are two ways to remember the difference.

To remember flounder, think of other words beginning with fl that have the sense of “awkward” or “clumsy” movement. For example:

Flap about

Flail around



In contrast, founder comes from the Latin word fundus, meaning “bottom” or “foundation”.

So to remember this word, think of another word with the same origin: foundation.

And just as a ship that sinks will end up at the bottom of the ocean, the foundation of a building is the very bottom of the building.

What words do you always confuse? Let me know in the comments and I’ll make a video!

Clare LynchComment