Preventive vs. Preventative

I got a good question today from Peter, who says  he prefers to think of himself as hailing from the coalface rather than the  Peanut Gallery – despite being paid peanuts.

Quick Mini-Tip:
The idiomatic expression “at the coalface” means you work in the thick of things, dealing with real problems and issues, getting all dirty, rather than sitting in a remote office viewing things in a detached way.

Back to Peter’s question:
What is the difference between preventive and preventative?

Preventive can be either a noun or an adjective.
As a noun, a preventive is something that prevents something bad, such as a
Beano is a preventive for intestinal gas. If you take Beano, there will be no gas.

As an adjective, preventive means concerned with prevention, precautionary, done to avoid something unpleasant.
The new medical insurance plan covers 100% of preventive care, such as mammograms and pap smears, with no deductible or co-pay required.

Preventative is a variant of preventive that means the same thing, and it can be used as either a noun or an adjective. However, preventive is generally preferred by the Grammar Police.

According to <a href="<>,
“…preventative has gained ground—now appearing about a third as often as
preventive—and most dictionaries list it as an acceptable variant. Whether or
not preventative is correct, it is now so common that we can’t help but accept

Some sources, including the New York Times, use “preventive” as the adjective and “preventative” as the noun, but Paul Brians, Emeritus Professor of English at Washington State University, says: “…the two are interchangeable as both nouns and adjectives, though many prefer ‘preventive’ as being shorter and simpler.”

I vote for shorter and simpler as a preventive measure.


Advice My Mother-In-Law Sent Me:
“If you can’t be kind, at least have the decency to be vague.”


4 Responses to “Preventive vs. Preventative”

  1. Joan Ashkenazi Says:

    Super post. Some good points you highlight in there.

  2. ako webmail Says:

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  4. Bryana C Hillman Says:

    Fabulous answer. I always preferred preventative over preventive… 🙂

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