Commonly confused words 1 – avoid and prevent

Here are some recent examples from national newspapers: (names and locations changed where necessary):

Joe Bloggs, 21, of London, who even blends Mars bars to avoid them making him sick,  has put on seven stone in a year.

Sue Jenkins said that she had started playing football to avoid her having to go to the  gym.       

In both instances, the word avoid is wrongly used, and prevent would have been more suitable (with a little rewriting!).  These two words are commonly misused. What’s the difference?

avoid – to stay away from something, to try not to go near someone or something:
Joe is avoiding his boss this week, because he hasn’t finished that report yet.
I want to avoid being involved in their argument.
Sally goes shopping early on Saturdays to avoid the crowds.
Tourists should avoid walking in Central Park at night.

We can’t avoid someone from doing something:
I want to avoid my children seeing their Christmas presents too early.

prevent – to stop something from happening or existing, to make it impossible:
In winter we try to prevent colds and flu by eating healthily.                                                                  We should prevent sunburn by using a good sunscreen.                                                                       
It is thought that aspirin may prevent heart attacks.

We can prevent someone from doing something:
Jane prevents her children from eating too many sweets.                                                                     
 I couldn’t prevent him from showing up at the party.                                                                          
The barking dogs prevented the burglar from breaking into the house.

So, I hope that this little explanation will help you to avoid errors, and prevent you from using the wrong word!

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