In my English studies I came across "prevent" and "avoid"

Cambridge Dictionary says:

  • prevent = to stop something from happening or someone from doing something:
  • avoid = to stay away from someone or something:

So if my understanding is correct we use:

  • "prevent" in form of protect or resistence
  • "avoid" in form of staying away or leaving out, omit or skip

Is this correct or are there any other/better ways of distinction ?

An example that would fit to my business exam would be:

What activities are needed to prevent/avoid that our customers become unsatisfied with our currently understaffed telephone service ?

I have found this issue here, also discussed on ELL

I have found a similar explanation here at "IT Knowledge Exchange:

A Web application firewall (WAF) is able to detect and _____ new unknown attacks by watching for unfamiliar patterns in the traffic data.

A. avoid B. prevent

Answer: B

While similar, the verbs avoid and prevent are not the same idea.

To avoid is to not go near something that is currently happening. To prevent is to stop something from existing or happening altogether.

So if I conclude your answers, we can use "prevent" for an action that we don't want to happen & avoid to renounce a situation. Would you confirm this ?

  • The dictionary seems to be clearer than your paraphrase.
    – James K
    Commented Apr 2, 2018 at 19:57
  • Doesn't avoid also imply some level of agency? A pill can prevent, but can it avoid?
    – Mörkö
    Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 19:17
  • To avoid something may allow it to happen to somebody/something else. This is not the behaviour expected of a firewall, which is supposed to block threats to the systems it is protecting.
    – Peter
    Commented Apr 4 at 4:14

1 Answer 1


Without additional context, to avoid something is to stay away from where it is happening, while to prevent something is to keep it from starting in the first place. However, if you avoid doing something, this can be more or less synonymous with preventing it. Example:

Most workplace accidents can be avoided/prevented with proper safety training.

Think of this use of avoid as metaphorically "dodging" a situation. If you can avoid the conditions where something can happen (or avoid being in that situation at all) you have effectively prevented it from happening

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