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Which to Use: Preventive or Preventative?

The English language contains over one million words, and many of them are extremely similar! For instance, let’s take a look at the words preventative and preventive. Is there a difference between them?

  • Preventative and preventive are two different ways to spell the same word.
  • Both words mean “designed to keep something undesirable from occurring.”

How to Use Preventative and Preventive

First, we’ll take a look at some sentences containing these two similar words. Based on the context, how would you define them?

  • A new program serving uninsured children has more than quadrupled preventive dental visits for those under age five.
  • A voluntary federal jobs program for the employed would work as a genuine preventative policy.

The Definition of Preventative

As mentioned in the introduction, preventative means “designed to keep something undesirable from occurring.” When used as a noun, it means “a medicine or other treatment designed to stop ill health from occurring.”

The Definition of Preventive

Preventive means “designed to keep something undesirable from occurring.” Yes, it has the exact same definition as preventativePreventive often refers to various forms of medicine that can prevent disease. The word preventive can also be used as a noun. In this case, it means “a medicine or other treatment designed to stop ill health from occurring.”

If you look up the words preventive and preventative, you’ll find that they have exactly the same definition. Some dictionaries, like Merriam-Webster, place a direct link to the entry for preventive rather than including a separate entry for preventative. Both words mean the same thing.

The Etymology of Preventative and Preventive

The -ive suffix was added to the verb prevent around the year 1635Preventative evolved as a variant spelling of preventive around the same time. However, preventive has always been the more popular option.

Of course, there’s some variation between American English and British English. In British English, the word preventative is nearly as popular as the word preventive. Style guides such as The New York Times, Garner’s Usage Guide, the AP Stylebook, and The Chicago Manual of Style all prefer the shorter version.

The Bottom Line

Both variants are valid words that have the same meaning. Still, preventive is generally preferred. The editor of Merriam-Webster’s Learning Dictionary even gave some advice on this topic, mentioning that some writers and editors believe the word preventive is better and more correct than the word preventative. They went on to say that these beliefs aren’t true, but in order to avoid conflict, it’s best to use preventive instead. 

preventive or preventative explanation: both are acceptable with a preference for preventive

The English language is chockfull of similar sounding words with slight variations. Some are common misspellings, some are interchangeable. Here are a few other examples that we’ve discussed at length:

  1. Judgement vs. Judgment
  2. Verbage vs. Verbiage
  3. Programme vs. Program
  4. All right vs. Alright
  5. Empathic Vs. Empathetic

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By Jessica Allen

Jessica is a full-time freelance writer and editor with a Bachelor’s degree in English and Spanish.

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