Aborted vs. abortive

  • As an adjective, aborted means terminated before completion. Abortive is an adjective meaning (1) failing to cause an intended objective, or (2) causing the termination of a pregnancy. So while abortive and the adjectival aborted share some common ground, there is a subtle distinction: Aborted implies intentional termination, while abortive, in its first sense, implies failure despite earnest effort. In the second sense of abortive, the termination may be either intentional or unintentional.


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    For example, the things described as aborted in these sentences are terminated on purpose:

    As we know, President-elect Abraham Lincoln aborted his pre-announced public schedule in Baltimore on February 23, 1861. [Washington Post]

    Newt Gingrich’s aborted presidential campaign announcement was prompted by concerns from his legal team . . . [Politico]


    And in these examples, the things described as abortive fail unintentionally:

    Its members still fearfully remember the bloody punishment they got after backing an abortive coup in 1993. [The Economist]

    After an abortive couple of years in Hollywood, he eventually found success on stage in 1935 … [Guardian]

    But even though these distinctions are useful, many writers use aborted and abortive interchangeably.


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