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They built a wall to avoid soil being washed away. - Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary

I think it is better to say They built a wall to prevent/stop soil from being washed away. “Prevent” is used when you want to stop something from happening, while “avoid” is used when you want to stay away from something that is already happening or existing. “Prevent” implies an active or proactive action, while “avoid” implies a passive or reactive action.

We say "avoid something" and "avoid doing something", but not "avoid someone doing something". Some people might argue that "avoid someone doing something" is valid: if you want to stay away from your friend when they are drinking alcohol, then “avoid your friend drinking alcohol” is okay. But I feel this phrase is awkward and ill-written. It's better to say “avoid your friend when they are drinking alcohol”.

Is it always better to convert "avoid someone doing something" to "avoid something", "avoid doing something" or "prevent/stop someone from doing something"?

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    The direct object of avoid is categorically an outcome. So, the form of a sentence which uses 'avoid' is something like "SUBJ did X to avoid OUTCOME." In your example, the phrase "soil being washed away" is the 'outcome' to be avoided. The version of the sentence with "from" in front of the phrase is incorrect (that's why it sounds worse): "from being washed away" does not fit the form of being an 'outcome.' I hope this helps! Jul 9, 2023 at 3:57
  • @QuackE.Duck I agree with you, but I've updated my question. A penny for your thoughts?
    – joy2020
    Jul 9, 2023 at 13:54
  • I think the original sentence is probably grammatically correct, but I agree that it is ugly. I probably would have rewritten it like "to avoid the washing away of soil." I strongly disagree with Quack E. Duck that "prevent/stop X from ____" is incorrect; it is actually the more common usage in English.
    – stangdon
    Jul 9, 2023 at 14:53
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    QuackE.Duck meant it is incorrect to say"avoid soil from being washed away", which appeared in my original post, but was later removed. I'm sorry for the confusion.
    – joy2020
    Jul 9, 2023 at 15:38
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    @joy2020 Thanks for the clarification. OK, now I understand what QED was saying and I agree.
    – stangdon
    Jul 9, 2023 at 21:13

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+50

Those structures have different meanings and can both be correct given the right context.

If you see a drunk guy on the street yelling offensive, provoking things at people, it's safer to stay away from that person.

You should avoid people trying to start fights.

Implied there is "...people (who are) trying...".

So, your instincts were right about avoiding your friend when they're drinking alcohol, but your sentence means, "Avoid your friend who is drinking alcohol" (not "when they're drinking"). So for that sentence to make sense, your friend must be drinking right now.

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  • That is a great observation that I'd initially missed: the constructions in the two example sentences are not the same! In the first sentence, the thing you want to avoid is the action (avoid 'being washed away,' not avoid 'soil'), but in the second, you're avoiding the subject of the action ('your friend,' not 'drinking alcohol'). I think that's why the second sentence sounds awkward: one (or at least I did at first) tries to interpret it as being the first construction and meaning that you should try to avert your friend's getting drunk. Jul 10, 2023 at 16:33
  • So swapping out 'avoid' for 'prevent' changes the meaning in the second sentence, but not in the first. +1 btw :D Jul 10, 2023 at 16:34

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