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Preventative vs. preventive

Preventive is the original adjective corresponding to prevent, but preventative has gained ground and is now a common variant. The two share all their definitions.

As of early 2013, preventive is about three times as common as preventative in general web searches. And as the ngram below suggests, preventive has been far more common in published books for the last two centuries at least:

The prevalence of the shorter form is seen throughout the English-speaking world, but the longer form is especially common outside North America. In British news stories from 2012, for instance, the ratio of preventive to preventative was very nearly 1:1, while it was almost 10:1 in U.S. news stories from the same period.

Since publishing this post, we’ve received comments saying that preventive is an adjective and preventative is a noun. This would be a useful distinction, but it is not consistently borne out in practice (the NYT example below notwithstanding). Moreover, we find no English reference sources that make the distinction, and those that mention the issue at all simply recommend preventive over preventative without differentiating them.

Preventive and preventative belong to the troublingly inconsistent class of -tive/tative word pairs that also includes interpretive/interpretativeexploitive/exploitativeauthoritive/authoritative, and many others. What makes these pairs so troubling is that they have consistently flouted any rules English authorities have attempted to impose, and there is no consistency in how they are formed. What form becomes preferred is decided by usage, and usage is rarely guided by concerns of logic or consistency.

Examples

Examples of preventative are easily found in recent news stories:

Free preventative services coverage kicks in on many health plans this coming September. [Babble.com]

Shouldn’t all fishing come to a halt as a preventative measure? [CNN.com]

We propose that preventative interventions can be developed on college campuses. [Stress and Mental Health of College Students, M.V. Landow]

But in edited publications and published books, the shorter form still prevails. Examples such as these are more common:

Given this context, it has been difficult to initiate preventive interventions for children who are only beginning to develop early symptoms. [Lewis’s Child and Adolescent Psychiatry]

And people weren’t getting tests or preventive care that could help them avoid heart attacks, diabetes or cancer. [Wall Street Journal]

Preventive measures are simple and cost-effective. [Financial Times]

Oddly, this New York Times op-ed uses both words within a single paragraph, with preventative used as a noun and preventive as an adjective:

But we cannot allow ourselves to forget for even a moment that force is effective only as a preventative—to prevent the destruction and conquest of Israel, to protect our lives and freedom. Every attempt to use force not as a preventive measure, not in self-defense, but instead as a means of smashing problems and squashing ideas, will lead to more disasters. [New York Times]

This writer obviously thinks of preventive is an adjective and preventative is a noun, a distinction that, again, is not consistently borne out in broader usage.

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Comments

  1. nancy edwards-cogswell says:

    The urge to use an extra syllable strikes me as similar to the urge to use the pronoun “I” instead of “me” as each seems more ‘formal’ and possibly elegant.
    Simple, straightforward and clear is what I was taught. And try to achieve.

  2. Sad to see a “proper grammar” comment using, in the final sentence, “data” as a singular.  It’s a plural but almost universally mis-used.  :(

  3. Several words of foreign origin are used in the wrong way. “Data” is one example. “Viruses” is another and “forums” one more. The plural of several words of Latin origin (and some of Greek origin) is the same as in their original language. The plural of “Forum” should be “Fori”, of “Spectrum” should be “Spectra” and of “virus” should be “Viri”. The word “Phenomenon” (Grk. origin) is “Phenomena” in plural and this is most frequently observed by writers. Correct Latin plural should also be observed.

    • Grammarist says:

      We think of it this way: When “forum,” “spectrum,” virus,” and so on are used in English, they are not Latin words. They are English words inspired by the Latin originals. As English words (and long-established ones at that), they can be pluralized in the English manner. They can also be pluralized in the Latin manner, and many writers choose to do so. There really are no rules for English. There are just preferences, and some preferences are more widely held than others.

      Most writers aren’t consistent on these things, though. We use “viruses” instead of “virii” for instance, and “forums” instead of “fora,” but would never think of using “phenomenons.”

      This has nothing to do with “preventative” and “preventive,” though, so we’ll probably delete all these comments in a few days. Here’s our post on “phenomena” and “phenomenon”: http://grammarist.com/usage/phenomena-phenomenon/ And here’s our post on “data”: http://grammarist.com/usage/data/

  4. I was thinking off the top of my head that preventative was a noun and preventive was an adjective, but that is just drawing from my personal lexis.

  5. I’m a stick in the mud about my preference for “preventive”.  My standard pushback if someone asks me why is “People don’t preventate things from happening, so why use “preventative” when “preventive” works fine?”  

    • MY SENTIMENTS EXACTLY!  I am a registered dental hygienist and I hear “preventative” all the time and for the same reason, it drives me crazy!  You prevent, NOT preventate!  Kudos to you!

      • Ditto.  But when I asked someone this question, her response was “represent- representative,  prevent- preventative”.   We all know logic is not English language’s strength but still. 

      • I am also a registered dental hygienist and, when I hear “preventative”, I want to scream!!! Unfortunately, I hear it a lot….from the dentist!! It’s ridiculous. Adding letters to a word does not make it better. Those extra classes people take aren’t electatives!! I guess I should use my selectative hearing when people use this word and it won’t bother me so much.
        And while I’m at it….Quit using the word myself instead of me!!! “Suzie went with Bob and myself to lunch” REALLY?!! Would a person say Suzie went with myself to lunch? NO. So why would she go with Bob and myself???? She wouldn’t!
        I could go on forever……….

        • Personally, I don’t understand why people ever use more than one punctuation mark to close out a sentence. Are multiple question marks or exclamation points necessary? Why isn’t one good enough? To me, it would seem if you write well enough, you can get your point across without making it look like you are screaming.

          • She was screaming.

          • Adam Gibson says:

            Thanks for pointing this out, Lab. You’ve made a major contribution to this website and to society in general. Just kidding, you’re no grammar hero. I mean, if you really believe that then you should clone yourself while you’re still alive.

            So you can go FACK yourself.

          • Lab’s point is that people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Someone characterizing people as “ridiculous” because they use a word they have grown up with, like “representative” or “argumentative,” etç, just because there are no words “representate” or “argumentate” don’t deserve to be treated with kid’s gloves. You, however, with your barely concealed offensive remark, are beyond the pale.

          • I can’t believe no one commented on kid’s. It should be kid gloves, as kid refers to baby goat (kid) skin gloves, not a child’s.

          • I agree

          • AdamResponse says:

            You must be blue collar. Congratulations on not paying for an education!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

          • ASS

        • Actually saying Bob and myself is grammatically acceptable and it would be “Bob and I” not “Bob and me” if you really want to be correct

          • That’s actually a hyper-correction. She went with Bob and me is fine as a sentence.
            You can test it by taking out all the other people and see if it makes sense
            She went with me is fine.

            Bob and me went to the supermarket isn’t correct since the sentence ‘me went to the supermarket’ doesn’t make sense.

          • Her point was that people mistakenly use the self-referential object “myself” instead of the object “me”.

          • Depends on the context. It would be “Bob and I went to lunch” or “Susie went to lunch with Bob and me.”

          • Spiritman says:

            Subject and object, anyone? I = subject, me = object.
            I filled the glass / The glass was filled by me
            John and I went to work / The work was done by John and me

          • Would it not be more grammatically correct to say “The work was PERFORMED (vs done) by John and me?

          • You’re missing the point. My tip concerns the use of ‘I’ and ‘me’.

          • Doesn’t really matter what your point was, if you argue one grammatical mistake only to commit another one in the same sentence, how can we take your argument seriously?

          • That’s where you’ve made a false assumption: I was merely offering the I/me subject/object distinction as a tip, not as a criticism of anybody’s grammar. Read the thread.
            Having said that, I’m not so sure you have a valid challenge anyway; there’s nothing ungrammatical or incorrect about the phrase “The work was done by …”. I think you’re just trolling, to be honest.

          • David, grammatically correct is redundant. A sentence is either grammatical or not grammatical. :-)

          • smalltowndude says:

            It’s not about context; it’s about whether one is the object or the subject of the action.

          • smalltowndude says:

            Actually, it wouldn’t be “Bob and I.” I suggest you do a little research
            before you post – if you really want to be correct. I count at least
            five punctuation errors in your post, so why are you offering
            advice here?

          • pccontroller says:

            “I took Bob and myself to the park” is acceptable, because “myself” is used as the object strictly when the subject is “I”. However, if the subject is someone else, the correct first-person object form is “me”.
            In this case, “me” is an object, so it should not be replaced with “I”. “She went with I to lunch” is not correct…

          • Sunitha says:

            Sorry, it’s not Bob and I, it’s Bob and me. Suzie went with Bob and me because Suzie wouldn’t go with I, she would go with me. On the other hand, Bob and I could go with Suzie because I go with Suzie and not me go with Suzie. Make sense? And myself would be correct in this context!

          • BrnQQSusie says:

            No, no, no, no, NO!! It can NOT be “Bob and I!!” That is my biggest grammar pet peeve in the world. So many people say, “Would you like to go to the park with Bob and I?” Would you say, “Would you like to go to the park with I?” NO. So, it should be “with Bob and me!!”

        • AnswerKelly says:

          I want to scream when you put the comma outside quotation marks!

        • Katherine says:

          I am a retired dental hygienist and agree that “preventative” to me denotes a lack of knowledge in the term…………

          • Jorge Molina says:

            It is interesting to see discussions of people trying for English to be self-consistent. The only consistent thing about English is its propensity to change and adjust. I like the graph showing prevalence of use, I would say that is the only thing that really matters. (for the record, I like preventive better as it is shorter and closer to the word “prevent”)

    • nope…you don’t need preventate to be a word in order for preventative to be acceptable. No one argumentates but you can be argumentative (in fact, argumentive is not even a word). So that one counterexample basically destroys the substance of your argumentatification.

      • to add to this…the point is not that preventative is better; it’s that it’s valid. And “preventate” not being a word does not invalidate “preventative,” just as in the case of “argument” and “argumentative”. I guess my analogy isn’t perfect because prevent is a verb and argument is a noun, but the general idea is that our suffixes are sloppy anyway, so why be a stickler about this one word? I think the worst you could say is that someone who uses “preventative” may be ignorant of the existence of the word “preventive,” which is more acceptable in a formal setting. Normally I would be the stickler, but this one doesn’t bother me. If you want to find something that’s a real grave concern for the integrity of our language, look up “leisurely.” Originally an adjective, it is now accepted as an adverb because tons of ignorant people think that all words that end in “ly” are adverbs. The problem is that leisurely is constructed from a noun and a suffix: generally the formula for an adjective, not an adverb (which tends to be constructed from an adjective and a suffix).

        • Faithful_Clean says:

          I am with you, Jon. I do agree that “preventive” is more acceptable in formal writing. I don’t say that “preventative” is wrong, but in my observation, it seems like the formation of the adjective depends on the formation of the noun; when the noun form of the verb ends in “ion,”
          all I do most often is change the “-on” to “ve” to come up with my preferred adjective. In the case of “argument” from the verb “argue,” “argumentative”, to me, does not sound awkward because there is that noun called “argumentation” hence “argumentative.”
          Because I have ESL, I will– for a long time – be in the learning process, and I always wish that I were born, brought up, and fully educated here in the U.S.A. I continue to envy those who were, for communication is paramount. I find it truly frustrating when I fail to express and get my message across.
          I fully understand your concern about the adjectives that are thought as adverbs, the
          now-acceptable words that were not in the past. I still get all twisted when I hear how the sports announcers pronounce “offense” and “defense.” I just lament those who are unaware of their ills and are unwilling to learn.

      • Patrick Cohen says:

        @Jon:disqus argumentatification… lol :)

        @all As stated in the original post above, preventative is gaining ground in popular usage. We must remember that words are regularly added to dictionaries and other accepted “official” lexicons as they become more accepted through general use.

        A classic example of this from recent memory would be the hullabaloo raised (in my mind at least) when “ain’t” found its way into the dictionary. :)

    • AndorAnswer says:

      Rules are rules. You don’t even understand quotation usage; your period is outside the quotation. Why americans use so many british rules is beyond me.

    • ubisububi says:

      Your argument is quite authorative.

    • denphil81755 says:

      YES, absolutely my thinking. ” Preventative” drives me crazy!

  6. Jenny Dwenger says:

    One doesn’t “representate”, and yet we have “representative” stemming from “represent”.  I accept the emergence of “preventative” alongside “preventive” as perfectly valid. 

    • samondisqus says:

      True, the “preventate” pushback does leave the “representate” rejoinder, but there at least  we can point to the noun “representation.” Not so “preventation,” one of the reasons I’m still annoyed by “preventative.”

    • What next, conversate is ok? It’s wrong, that’s all it is. There is a proper word, use it.

    • As pointed out above, the difference is that “representative” is a noun and “preventative” is usually being used as an adjective. There is no reason they should follow the same rule.

      • I have never heard preventative used as an adjective.

        • thylacine says:

          ‘Preventative medicine’? And both ‘representative’ and ‘preventative’ (I would prefer ‘preventive’) can be used as either adjectives of nouns, e.g. ‘a representative sample’. The OED says that ‘preventative’ has been used since the 1600s.

    • “Representatives” act through “representation”, not through “represention”. “Preventive” measures act through “prevention”, not through “preventation”. I hope this helps you see that preventative is, in fact, not a perfectly valid representation of the word preventive.

      • Grammarist says:

        Counterexamples: “Authoritative,” “quantitative,” “qualitative,” and “exploitative” are preferred over their shorter alternatives. There is no consistent pattern with these word formations. It all comes down to which form becomes standard through widespread usage, and usage is rarely guided concerns by of logic or consistency. Yet no doubt this comment section will continue to rage on ineffectually for as long as this site exists.

  7. Christian LeBlanc says:

    ‘Preventive’ is always correct and ‘preventative’ is the next thing to ‘irregardless’.

  8. Don’t even get me started on “orientated”.

  9. Abdulkadirjailani says:

    It has been preventive , throughout all these years and it makes sense grammatically. In the case of preventative, it does not preventate, and thus puts one ill at ease

  10. Barry Seymour says:

    I agree with the noun / adjective position. I mean, I can’t remember the last time I ‘preventated’ anything from happening.

  11. Philweather says:

    Even in the last example where you said preventative was being used as a noun, it was still only being used as an adjective.  In the example “force is effective only as a preventative”, force is still the implied noun and preventative is being used as the adjective.  The english language is so inconsistent.  No wonder it’s one of the hardest languages in the world to learn.

  12. KeepOnLearning says:

    When we begin saying “preventate,” I’ll begin using “preventative.”

    But, to be fair, I have to admit a parallel that permits this awful word is the extrapolation of “represent” to “representative.”

    • I disagree — you’re on the other end of the lever: in danger of “represention”.

      In both cases the leftmost “t” is part of the formation of the present participle, in this case, praesens, -entis (the “t” is part of the stem, i.e., all forms except nominative singular). The verb is praeesse, “to be in front of”.

      The unique formation is when the past participle praesentatus became the basis, also classical Latin, of a secondary formation made from the first, praesentatio showing both t’s.

      “Prevention”, on the other hand, didn’t have that history. It is from praevenire, “to arrive before”, and the present participle praeveniens, -entis.

      You could say, the secondary formation occurred, but not until this century, where the other word had that in classical times.

  13. Jake DiFebo says:

    When I hear preventive, I think of in order to prevent.
    When I hear preventative, I subconsciously listen for “medicine” to follow.

    • LisabethMD09 says:

      This is interesting that you listen for “medicine” to follow “preventative”, because as a preventive medicine physician, the word “preventative” makes my skin crawl.

  14. Jake DiFebo says:

    “Orientated” is a word, man. To “be orientated” means to have attended an orientation. An orientation is where people “orient” individuals to new concepts that they are designated to become accustomed to.

    The difference is that I orient you, whereas you are orientated at your new-school orientation.

  15. Barakech says:

    A college professor of mine said that a preventative was a condom! Therefore “preventive” was the correct word in other instances!

  16. Interesting that those listed as “higher-standard” are, shall we say, more established (aka older) publications, while the presumably lower-standard sites are newer.

  17. Sean Muldoon, MD MPH says:

    as some indication of thoughfulness, the American College of Preventive Medicine (professional society of public health physicians and nurses) has made their choice.

  18. Easy: some people like preventing, others like prevenTAting! I just wish they would be consistent when expressing themselves… but no way!
    Possibly, that is why the “new” term appears more often in lower-level places, where consistency is not such an issue.

    • I am actually known to utilize a fairly extensive vocabulary as well as adhere to proper grammar when I can. But I didn’t realize there was a controversy over this until someone pointed out my use of the word “preventative” (wherein she agreed with my use of it, mind you). Ergo, I’d not be so quick to assign a “lower level” mentality to those who use it. Given there are a lot of words in the English language that don’t make sense just from their very structure (irregardless, for example), I think I am at peace with using “preventative” all this time. However, being one to adhere to grammar rules when I can, I likely will use “preventive” from now on.

  19. Nick Arnett says:

    If you’re going to be pedantic, use the word “ngram” correctly! The chart is not an ngram, the chart shows measurements of ngrams. In other words, it is an ngram chart, not an ngram.

  20. The language is really defined by usage, not by adherence to past practices, so I guess we’ll have to get used to preventative, orientated, and the use of “and I” in place of “and me” in the objective case. But I plan to stick with preventive, and I think that’s the best course for you and me!

  21. To calrify the Philweather-Chad exchange, the NY Times use of “preventative” is simply another attempt to replace a perfectly good adjective-noun pair with a pseudo-word. The better construction is “… force is effective only as a preventive measure.”
    Philweather’s reference to “force” being the implied noun is wrong; the actual implied noun is “measure”.

  22. Growing up in the northeast U.S., I heard “preventative” far more often than “preventive.” In fact, I thought that “preventative” was the preferred word and that “preventive” was the younger version of the adjective. I wonder if it’s a regional thing.

  23. John_Galt_2011 says:

    When I hear “preventative”, I think “This moron is yet another of the horde of people trying to sound smarter than they actually are, and yet it’s backfiring because they’ve chosen a word that at best is a secondary usage and at worst should not even be a word.”

    I believe it started as part of the trend of people in office environments adding syllables (e.g. preventative, irregardless), making up usages (e.g. get their buy-in, out of the box), and abandoning any care in the world about grammar, spelling, or use of punctuation as a subconscious reaction to the emergence of “geek speak” and technology-elitist clique cultures. I further believe that the chart in the article bears this out, showing how “preventative” took off in usage growth in 1980, just as offices were putting computers and terminals on desks and “data processing” departments in their buildings. There are two things at play: (1) the poor language, grammar, and spelling skills of computer and technology professionals, and (2) the embarrassment felt by non-technical workers at not being to understand anything about what the computer people were telling them (See Jimmy Fallon’s old “IT Guy” character on SNL from a few years back). As businesses used more information technology, they hired more technology people, creating a critical mass of techno-geek elitists who no longer were pilloried for their poor language skills. At the same time, those elitists found for the first time that they could be condescending to the non-geek workers who they perceived (probably correctly) were the people that bullied them in high school. This in turn led to non-geeks feeling inadequate that they couldn’t speak of the black arts of IT in terms like “meta-tag”, “megabyte”, or “defragment your drive”, and ultimately to their invention of non-words and phrases in order to sound “in the know”.

    At the end of the day, this is my out of the box, symbiotic swag at getting some buy-in for my preventative action against the geeks, irregardless of whether I’m correct or not.

    • regardless of how the word developed, you should really just accept that it’s ok, . This kind of evolution of a word happens all the time, and not just in our language. Sometimes certain words, even if they are longer, just feel or sound better to say. And don’t give me the slippery slope argument…self-proclaimed grammar experts like you will always be around to keep us all in check. I’m insecure about a lot of things, but my intelligence and grammar are not among them (although maybe they should be)…yet I use preventative all the time because other people do and it sounds fine. I don’t do it to impress anyone. I’m not sure how much of your explanation of the evolution of “preventative” is true, although much of it sounds plausible, and sure…it’s a fine exercise to try to understand the “why.” But my point is that you don’t need to attack people for using the word.

  24. I’m 44 years old and I have rarely ever heard “preventive” used. I was born on Long Island but I’ve lived in Chicago since I was six and I have always thought “preventative” was the word. In fact, I am not sure I have ever heard or noticed anyone using the
    word “preventive” and I am amazed that it is the more prevalent usage. This is strange to me because I laugh when I hear people say “orientated” instead of “oriented”. It never even occurred to me that the word forms were similar. I am strongly considering using “preventive” from now on because I do not want to be lumped in with those people who say “orientated”. Shiver…..

    I am not a grammar or language expert but I take issue with adjectives being called nouns when used like…. “Conservatives would vote against that bill,” or “He used it as a preventative.” I understand that a sentence must have a subject or an object but when used this way the words (to me) are still adjectives, descriptors, and the noun is simply implied but omitted for brevity. Conservatives = Conservative [people]. Preventative = preventative [measure, device, etc]. And so on. When we use an antiseptic we use an antiseptic [cream, solution, etc.] but antiseptic is still an adjective. When we use a verb as the object or subject in place of a noun we call it a gerund. “Walking,” the gerund, stands for “the act of walking”, “act” being implied as the noun. When we use an adjective as a noun, we should call it something else, too.

  25. Preventative can only be used properly as a noun. A medecine that prevents an illness is a preventative. The type of medical care that offers this medicine is preventive healthcare.

    • Grammarist says:

      Just curious–how did you form this view of how the words are differentiated? We’re asking not to challenge you, but because we’ve received this comment from a few people and are wondering if it’s a view held by people in a specialized group. The differentiation definitely isn’t borne out in broader usage, but perhaps it’s observed by people in the medical field, for instance.

    • thylacine says:

      Hi Jessica: the dictionary (at least the Oxford Dictionary) makes no such distinction. This may be how you’ve heard the two variants used, however, so it appears to you as if there is a distinction.

  26. “preventative” is …a noun?

  27. I am a retired NAVY veteran. It drove me nuts for 21 years hearing everyone say “Preventative Maintenance”. I also liken it to “conversate”. Both are made up words.

    • EpsilonSigmaDelta says:

      But you say “conversation” not “conversion”, right?
      And we elect “representatives” not “representives”, right?
      So maybe there is more than one way to add suffixes in English.

  28. The word “preventative” became more widely usd and common during the 60s and 70s when a statement written by the American Dental Association was used by Crest Toothpaste as an important part of both their print and TV advertisements. I remember checking on this distinction as an undergraduate some 40 years ago.

  29. “Preventative” may be an unrecognized callback to our ancestral linguistic roots. Several English words have their roots in German, for example the German word for “house” is “Haus,” “hand” is “Hand,” “shoe” is “Schuh,” etc. In German it’s perfectly acceptable (even preferred) to add an extra syllable to words if it improves the flow of speech, for example, when the single-syllable word “Haus” is the indirect object of a sentence, it usually becomes “Hause” (the “e” is pronounced in a second syllable). Germans may even throw in some unnecessary “flavor words” to make the flow feel better: “Das weiss ich ja aber doch schon!” has three or four unnecessary words, which simply put means, “I know!”

  30. The second sentence in the NY Times op-ed is not even a valid sentence. How can the writer be considered a credible source for issues of grammar or spelling?

    • Grammarist says:

      That actually resulted from us cutting off the quote too early. It’s funny that no one else has commented on that in the two years we’ve had that quote in this post. Thanks for pointing it out!

  31. Michael Freed says:

    People think that more syllables or seeming more precise make them sound smarter. The latest thing that bugs me is “we will get back to you within 48 business hours.” Now, I think they mean 2 business days, but somehow “48 business hours” sounds more precise to them. When I say to them “So, if there are 8 business hours in a day does that mean you might not get back to me for 6 business days, which, when you add a weekend, is over a week?” they have no answer.

  32. I believe in keeping everything as simple as possible–especially with regards to writing. Strunk and White in the Elements of Style recommended “omit unnecessary words”. That should be carried further to omitting unnecessary syllables and letters. If there is no widely accepted difference between “preventive” and “preventative” why use the extra “-ta-“? It would be another matter if “preventative” were consistently and widely used as a noun, but it isn’t.

  33. Seriously people? I’ve worked in the dental field for almost 20 years and I’ve heard both and both are correct – get over it. What about represent? Hello? Again … get over it – they are both correct and if you don’t like hearing preventative – oh well … boo hoo for you. Get a life. :P

  34. Frequent usage of an incorrect word does NOT make it correct.

    • EpsilonSigmaDelta says:

      Actually… it does. Because language is defined by use. Which is why Modern English is so different from Middle English is so different from Old English. The use *does* make it right.

  35. Harrison says:

    Preventive has the ring of being something definite, i.e., if this is done, something will be prevented. Preventative on the other hand is a bit more tentative, i.e., something done in the interest of preventing something. For example, think about maintenance in an industrial setting. Preventive maintenance would imply that the action will remove the possibility of an adverse occurrence; preventative maintenance would reduce the likelihood of such an occurrence. While in an engineering context it would always be desirable to definitely take action to prevent bad outcomes, sometimes the best that can be done due to incomplete knowledge or other factors is to mitigate the likelihood or degree of an undesirable occurrence through preventative actions.

    • RockwoodOntario says:

      I agree. In engineering and medicine, “preventive” has a more direct and forceful feel, while “preventative” suggests probability and chance of effect.

    • Oh man, now we have a tentative preventative and now I’m all like, disorientated. We should conversate about how to obfuscate.

  36. Ouch… It seems as though people enjoy getting very, very worked up over these kinds of things. By scrolling through the comments, I’m seeing so many threats and insults directed towards people who use “preventative” over “preventive”, calling them morons and idiots…
    I personally have used both as adjectives, all the while thinking one word spurred from the other and became two different but acceptable words. I just ventured on here to see if one was more acceptable in some instances than the other, and seeing all the hurtful comments is a little unnecessary. Can we just, say, speak an opinion without calling a bunch of people morons, idiots, or moronic idiots when the description on here states that neither word seems to be better than the other as of present?

    • Grammarist says:

      We find it strange as well. Some time last year we actually deleted all the comments on this post because they were getting too ugly, but then the same thing happened all over again. Perhaps we’ll just have to close the thread someday soon.

  37. Jeremiah Glosenger says:

    Lots of angry grammar police here in the comments sections. Relax people. We have bigger issues to worry about. Peace.

  38. Faithful_Clean says:

    I am not an English-language expert and not even an expert on my own native language. I am not saying that “preventative” is erroneous, but it just sounds awkward to me (my bad). Yes, I have a bad habit of just accepting what seems and sounds right to me —instead of learning the rules to ascertain correctness. In order to justify the reason why I prefer “preventive,” I would like to share my brief observation in this regard.

    In this case, it is the constant that makes me believe that the adjective form depends upon the noun form of the verb. It seems like when the noun form ends in “ion,” all I have to most often do is change the “on” to “ve.” to come up with what seemingly is the correct adjective. Hence, I understand why “representation” leads to “representative,” and my favorite, “prevention” leads to “preventive.” Maybe I would change my position when I hear from the certified experts that there are such things as the verb “preventate”, and the noun “preventation”, etc., etc. :)
    Okay, Okay! There are, as many say, exceptions to the rules, but I am afraid I know neither. :(

  39. I can’t think of any way that the word preventative could be used as a noun. One wouldn’t say, “I need a preventative.” However, one would say, “I need a preventative procedure,” which makes preventative an adjective as it is describing the word procedure. Perhaps I am just unable to think of a way to use it as a noun, but it seems clear to me that preventive and preventative are both adjectives. They are absolutely both valid forms of the word prevent, but I agree that preventative is yet another unnecessary addition to the English language making our language that much more inconsistent and confusing to those trying to learn it.

  40. I tend to use “preventive” because it’s shorter.

  41. Jorge Molina says:

    I dont think M*A*S*H dialogue was written by doctors.

  42. EpsilonSigmaDelta says:

    Until a coworker sent me this thread, I had never in my life heard the word ‘preventive’. I’m 36, and read a great deal, so to be told it is actually more common is mind-blowing.

  43. So we don’t get an authoritive — er, authoritative — answer (although my spellchecker has an opinion!

  44. M.R. Brenz says:

    Loosen up, folks – ALL words are “made up”.

  45. Ken Longwood says:

    Only morons use “preventative”. It’s like “administrate” used for “administer”. Strictly moron usage.

  46. Gwin DeMatteo says:

    I like to conversate here.

  47. I’ve always used “preventive”, so why the unnecessary extra syllable? But I can understand that after so much usage of “preventative”, it has become an acceptable alternative adjective.

  48. Corey Ray says:

    But have you ever seen “preventive” used as a noun? I think not. Preventive is the older word and should have it’s place carved out in our vocabulary. If we’re to make room for “preventative”, let it occupy the space “preventive” has left open. Let “preventative” be the noun and “preventive” remain the adjective.

  49. Case in point. You don’t ” Preventate ” something, you “Prevent” it.
    P.S. Type in “Preventate” and see what happens on spell correct.

  50. If inventive is the word for a creative person, why don’t we see inventative?.

  51. Stefan Victor Sieradzan says:

    Prevention = Preventive
    Authority = Authoritive
    Interpretation = Interpretative
    Exploitation = Exploitative

    Thank you andor.

  52. Aaron Copperpot says:

    Preventative measures are often proposed when preventive practices consistently fail.

    Best distinction I have.

  53. Sectionhand says:

    If “preventative” is a derivation of “prevent” , then “inventative” is a derivation of “invent” .

  54. I do not understand why every dental hygienist needs to identify themselves as such. Apparently being a dental hygienist also makes you an English expert. Feel free to criticize my grammar I am not a dental hygienist.

  55. disqus_Lzp2BYTDVb says:

    Has anyone mentioned the real process, that adjectives generally form from the noun?
    Hence preventive, only and always, all cases. But also interpretative.

  56. Allen Greger says:

    To paraphrase, one can have a preventive discussion on preventatives.

  57. Allen Greger says:

    A company would not have a preventative maintenance program but can have a preventive maintaneance program consisting of preventatives which will (assure or insure) the proper maintaneance of facilities and equipment.

  58. Cindy Turley Monger says:

    When I heard a DOCTOR use the word preventative, I about leapt out of my chair. I think it only makes a person sound like an idiot when they use the word preventative.

  59. Marcel*** says:

    I always prefered preventive to the other word, which sounds more pretentious to my ears.
    But since there is no “Académie Anglaise”, and usage picks frequently new words invented by famous people, Dictionaries follow trends to remain “à la mode” and we end up with such absurdities :)

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