[ pri-kaw-shuhn ]
/ prɪˈkɔ ʃən /
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a measure taken in advance to avert possible evil or to secure good results.
caution employed beforehand; prudent foresight.
verb (used with object)
to forewarn; put on guard.
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Origin of precaution

First recorded in 1595–1605, precaution is from the Late Latin word praecautiōn- (stem of praecautiō). See pre-, caution


un·pre·cau·tioned, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What does precaution mean?

A precaution is an action taken in advance to prevent something negative from happening or to lessen the impact of the negative thing if it does happen.

This sense of precaution is often used with the verb take, as in take precautions or take every precaution. 

Precaution can also refer to caution in advance of something (which leads one to take such precautions).

It can also be used as a verb meaning to warn. However, this is uncommon. The verb caution is more commonly used to mean this.

Precaution has two adjective forms: precautious, meaning being careful by actively preparing to avoid something negative, and precautionary, which is used to describe things done as a precaution, as in precautionary measures. 

Example: Officials said they have taken every available precaution to secure the city in advance of the storm.

Where does precaution come from?

The first records of the word precaution come from around 1600. Precaution combines the prefix pre, meaning “before,” with the noun caution (alertness or care in what could be a bad situation).

So how is precaution different from caution? The key difference is the pre-. Precaution implies action taken before something actually happens. A person using caution is being careful, especially in general or during a dangerous situation. A person taking precautions has anticipated something negative and is doing something to prepare so that it doesn’t happen or that it won’t be quite as bad if it does. A person boarding up windows before a hurricane hits is taking precautions. A person who always prepares for the worst case scenario has a sense of precaution.

When used in the phrase just a precaution, the word often implies that the bad thing probably won’t happen, and that the precaution has been taken to be extra careful.

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What are some other forms related to precaution

What are some synonyms for precaution

What are some words that share a root or word element with precaution

What are some words that often get used in discussing precaution?

How is precaution used in real life?

Precaution is most often used in the context of serious situations that involve real danger.



Try using precaution!

Which of the following examples refers to an action that would be considered a precaution?

A. Stepping carefully across a rickety bridge.
B. Putting on a life jacket before going on a boat.
C. Charging wildly into battle without a plan.

How to use precaution in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for precaution

/ (prɪˈkɔːʃən) /

an action taken to avoid a dangerous or undesirable event
caution practised beforehand; circumspection

Derived forms of precaution

precautionary or precautional, adjectiveprecautious, adjective

Word Origin for precaution

C17: from French, from Late Latin praecautiō, from Latin praecavēre to guard against, from prae before + cavēre to beware
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012