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Which to Use: Preventive or Preventative?

The English language is full of words that look and sound similar, making it tricky to choose the right one. This is certainly true for “preventative” and “preventive.” Both words are often used interchangeably, but it’s worth knowing if and when they differ.


First things first: both “preventative” and “preventive” have the same basic meaning. They describe actions, measures, or treatments designed to stop something undesirable from happening. Whether it’s about preventing mistakes in business writing or avoiding health issues, these words are all about prevention.

When to Use Preventive vs Preventative

Even though “preventative” and “preventive” mean the same thing, the choice between them can depend on the situation. Here’s what tends to influence the decision:

  • Style Guides: Some writing guides, especially those used by professionals and journalists, prefer “preventive.” For example, The AP Stylebook, The Chicago Manual of Style, and Garner’s Usage Guide recommend using “preventive” because it’s the shorter form and more to the point. This preference reflects a broader consensus towards precision in professional writing, particularly in American English.
  • Usage: Both words have been around for centuries, but “preventive” is a bit older and has been more common in written English. However, “preventative” is just as correct and is frequently used, especially in British English. The New York Times, known for its meticulous style, often opts for “preventive” to align with its commitment to concise language.

Example: Preventative Medicine

To give you a practical example, let’s look at “preventative medicine.” This term refers to medical practices that aim to prevent health issues before they start. In this context, you could use “preventive medicine” just as correctly. The choice here doesn’t change the meaning; it’s more about personal or regional preference.

Example: Using “Preventive”

An example of when to use “preventive” could be in a sentence like, “The company implemented a preventive maintenance schedule for all its equipment.” Here, “preventive” is used to describe measures taken to avoid equipment failures before they occur. This usage aligns with the preference for the shorter form and precision in professional and technical writing.

Which Should You Choose?

The debate between “preventative” and “preventive” isn’t about right or wrong but preference and context. If you’re following a specific writing guide or want to align with common usage, particularly in American English, “preventive” might be the better choice. But in everyday use or in regions where “preventative” is more common, you won’t be wrong to use it.

Straight Talk on Usage

In professional writing, being clear and consistent is key. Whether you choose “preventative” or “preventive,” the important thing is to stick with your choice throughout your document to avoid confusing your readers. Both words are correct and acceptable in general use, so you can decide which one fits your writing style or the preferences of your audience.

Remember, the main goal of using these terms is to communicate effectively about preventing something from happening. Whether you’re writing about health, business, or any other field, choosing your words carefully helps ensure your message is understood as intended.

Additional Reading

Check out our articles on other similar words and their usage:

  1. Judgement vs. Judgment
  2. Verbage vs. Verbiage
  3. All right vs. Alright
  4. Empathic vs. Empathetic
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By Lyna Nguyen

Lyna is an investor and entrepreneur with 15 years of experience working in the financial services industry. She has deep experience producing a wide range of business communications, including research reports, business plans, training presentations, memos, and investor communications.

Lyna's professional experience includes roles at several large financial institutions, including global banks and asset management firms. She has both Master's and Bachelor's degrees in Accounting.

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