“Preventive” vs. “Preventative”: What’s The Difference?

teal text on dark teal background: preventive vs. preventative

In everyday life, we hear a lot about preventative care, preventative maintenance, and preventative measures… or is it preventive? Is this just a spelling difference, or do the words have different meanings?

To prevent any further confusion between preventive and preventative, we’ll sort out the difference, discuss how they’re commonly used, and provide some examples so you can see both in use.

Quick summary

In most contexts, preventive and preventative are essentially interchangeable—they’re used to mean the same thing. This includes when describing the terms they’re most commonly encountered with, such as care, maintenance, and measures. Preventive has traditionally been more commonly used, particularly in medical contexts, but preventative is also (and perhaps increasingly) common.

Is it preventive or preventative?

Preventive and preventative usually mean the same thing—they’re both commonly used as adjectives to describe things intended to prevent something (negative) from happening.

Historically, preventive has been more common. Some people object to preventative due to thinking it’s incorrect (it isn’t) or that the extra syllable is unnecessary, but not only is preventative commonly used, it has been in common use for hundreds of years—nearly as long as preventive.

Preventive may be more common in formal medical contexts, in which it can be used as both an adjective and a noun in the same way that its synonym prophylactic can.

In general use, though, preventive and preventative are interchangeable. Whichever one you use, take care to spell it correctly.

Is it spelled buses or busses?

How do you spell preventative?

Speaking of spelling, it can be easy to misspell preventative. Common misspellings include preventitive and prevenative.

The root of both preventive and preventative is prevent, and both words always start with it. Even though preventative is based on prevent (and not preventate), it uses the ative ending. Even though it may seem superfluous when simply ending with -ive is an option, this construction is not uncommon—it’s used in many other words, such as argumentative, authoritative, augmentative, qualitative, and exploitative (which also has an -ive alternative in exploitive).

Examples of preventive and preventative used in a sentence

For each of the sentences below, you can use either preventive or preventative.

  • An ounce of preventive/preventative care is worth a pound of cure.
  • Failing to perform preventive/preventative maintenance will shorten the lifespan of your vehicle.
  • If we take preventive/preventative measures, we should be able to mitigate the potential for structural damage.
  • This is a preventive/preventative—it will only help you if you take it beforehand.

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