Foil refers to a character, often in literature or drama, who is used to create contrast or highlight the distinctive characteristics of another character. The foil character is typically portrayed as having opposite or contrasting traits to the main character, which enhances the reader’s or audience’s understanding of the main character’s attributes and motivations.


US English

UK English

Part of Speech



Contrast, counterpoint, counterpart, complement, comparison


Ally, supporter, accomplice, assistant

Word Forms

Part of Speech Words
Noun foilings, foil, foliation, foliages, foliations, foliage, foils, foiling
Verb foiled, foliate, foliates, foil, foils, foiling, foliated, foliating
Adjective foliate
Adverb None

Example Sentences

  • In Shakespeare’s play “Hamlet,” Laertes serves as a foil to the main character, highlighting Hamlet’s contemplative nature by contrast to Laertes’ impulsive and vengeful actions.

  • The antagonist’s charming and persuasive nature works as a foil to the protagonist’s honesty and integrity, emphasizing the conflict between deception and truth.

  • The quirky and artistic sister serves as a foil to her practical and serious sibling, creating a balanced dynamic within their family.

  • The villain’s calculating and conniving behavior serves as a foil to the hero’s bravery and selflessness, intensifying the dramatic tension in the story.


The word “foil” has a rich history and its usage has evolved over time. Its origin can be traced back to the Old French word “foille,” meaning “a leaf of metal.” Originally, the term was used in the context of metalworking, specifically referring to a thin sheet of metal used as a backing for gems or as a decorative element. This usage is still prevalent, especially in the field of arts and crafts, where foil is often used for decorative purposes.

The term “foil” took on a figurative meaning in literature and drama during the Renaissance. It became associated with a specific character type that was designed to contrast with the main character and bring out their qualities. This usage of the term can be found extensively in the works of William Shakespeare, who skillfully employed foil characters to enhance the depth of his protagonists.

The word “foil” does not have any identifiable prefix, suffix, or root as it is an independent word. However, it is worth noting that the term’s figurative usage is derived from its original meaning in metalworking, where a foil served as a backing or contrast to the main decorative element.

In modern usage, “foil” has expanded to be applied in various contexts beyond literature and metalworking. It is commonly used to describe any contrasting or contrasting element that serves to highlight another’s qualities or to provide a counterpoint. This can include characters in literature or film, but also extends to real-life situations such as the relationship between two individuals or political rivals.

Overall, the term “foil” has a long and fascinating history, originating from the world of metalworking and finding its way into the domains of literature, drama, and everyday language. Its usage as a noun to describe a contrasting character or element continues to be a valuable tool for writers and speakers alike, allowing for the exploration and highlighting of nuanced characteristics and motivations.