We’re back with another Grammar Time post! Today we’re going to look at the differences between “prevent” and “avoid.”
What’s the Difference?
At first glance, “prevent” and “avoid” might seem interchangeable. They both pertain to something not happening, right? Well . . . not quite. The difference between them lies in whether a problem or situation already exists or not.
To prevent a problem means to anticipate it and take steps to keep it from ever happening.
To avoid a problem means to take steps to get around or elude it. The issue already exists; you just want to steer clear of it.
Let’s take a look at the following examples:
- Keep raw meat separate from your other groceries to prevent contamination and foodborne illness. Correct
- Keep raw meat separate from your other groceries to avoid contamination and foodborne illness. Incorrect
In this example, if the raw meat is kept separate, contamination and foodborne illness won’t occur. Since the problem doesn’t exist, “prevent” is correct.
- We took the back road into town to avoid the traffic jam on the freeway. Correct
- We took the back road into town to prevent the traffic jam on the freeway. Incorrect
Here, the traffic on the freeway already exists; there is no preventing it at this point. However, you can circumvent the traffic by taking a different route.
When to Only Use Avoid
You can also avoid doing something, whether it’s the action of staying away or just refraining from participating.
- The student avoided the teacher in the hallway because she knew he’d ask about the unfinished homework.
- She needs to avoid excessive physical activity while she heals from surgery.
In these examples, the student is staying away from the teacher, and the person recovering is refraining from doing too much physical activity.
Now that you have these definitions down, you can prevent confusion and avoid using these words incorrectly!