I try to understand whether the word "avoid" is strong enough to mean "never".

Listen my advice: avoid joking about Joe.

Listen my advice: never joke about Joe.

It is assumed that Joe is a complete psychopath, but we don't state it explicitly. Is our advice "safe" enough to prevent someone to be killed?

I ask it because I often see sentences starting with "Avoid..." in technical documentation. It always makes me scratch my head and ask myself whether it is permitted to break the described rule when I really want to do so. The sentences like this one:

Avoid calling a function before its declaration.

2 Answers 2


“avoid” allows exceptions. “never”, at least in theory, does not.

For instance, I avoid shellfish because I don’t like the taste, but I’ll eat it if I’m hungry enough. My sister never eats shellfish because she’s allergic and could die.

In a programming context, “avoid” is often used to caution people to not do things that are generally a bad idea. But if you fully understand the reasons why, you will see there are corner cases where it might actually be okay.

For instance, if you call an undeclared function in C, the compiler will create a prototype on the fly, which may or may not be correct. If you understand the default argument promotion rules and never make any typos, though, you could use that feature safely.


With these kind of scenarios we tend to say 'Try to'

'Try to avoid making fun of Joe.' 'Try to avoid breaking your leg on the way down.'

These do not portray the idea of 'Never' The idea behind it is like saying 'Do not' in a subtle tone.

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