The accident could have been prevented

The accident could have been avoided

Would you show me semantically what the difference between the two is?

Also, are there any scenarios in which both sentences could be used interchangeably?

  • 4
    Depending on exact context, your own examples illustrate "interchangeable" usages. In general (as any dictionary should make clear) avoiding X means deliberately not being near to X, whereas preventing X means taking action to stop X from occurring. So you personally can avoid rush-hour traffic by leaving for work early, but unless an awful lot of other people do the same, they can't prevent rush-hour traffic (i.e. - from happening at all). Of course, if too many people set off early, the rush-hour will still exist - it'll just happen earlier. – FumbleFingers Mar 13 '15 at 20:11
  • You can prevent accidents. Avoid has a little flair of ignorance, and that does not fit into the context. – Maulik V Mar 14 '15 at 4:52
up vote 5 down vote accepted

It does depend on the context, but let's imagine that a group of people are discussing a collision on the roads.

"I believe it could have been prevented."

To me, and I'm not sure if the implications vary between individuals, but the speaker is saying that something could have been done a while before the situation occurred. For example, it may have been avoided by:

  • Safer road laws
  • A lower speed limit
  • Better brakes on cars

On the other hand, "avoided" implies that the actions taken to circumnavigate the incident would have been last minute, or unplanned.

  • Braking
  • Veering out of the way
  • Honking the drivers' horns

Google defines the terms as:

Avoid: keep away from or stop oneself from doing (something).

Prevent: keep (something) from happening.

They could be used as synonyms, and are fairly interchangeable (although one usually feels more natural to speak.)

  • What, however, do you mean by this? one usually feels more natural to speak, – nima Mar 18 '15 at 10:48
  • Ah, misses your comment. One might feel more neutral to speak, and if the context is lacking or unimportant, you could use either. – HarryCBurn Mar 20 '15 at 7:31

Another easy example to understand difference b/w 'prevent' and 'avoid' would be that of traffic lights and traffic police.
So traffic lights are installed to prevent traffic jams while traffic police is there to avoid traffic jams i.e. when traffic lights are either not working or not installed at all.
So you 'prevent' a situation by taking steps/precautions beforehand whereas you 'avoid' a situation by doing the right thing as per the moment.

The only difference is the direction of the relation. It's like asking what's the difference between "keep B away from C" v "keep C away from B", and "B is C's left" v "C is B's right".


Equation reduction

"The accident could have been prevented by B"

  • = "B could have prevented the accident."
  • = "B could have kept the accident away from therethen (spacetime state)." (The mover is the accident.)
  • = "B could have stop the accident from moving to therethen"

"The accident could have been avoided by B"

  • = "B could have avoided the accident."
  • = "B could have kept therethen away from the accident." (The mover is therethen.)
  • = "B could have stop therethen from moving to the accident"


Substitution

B = "driving carefully"

  • "The accident could have been prevented by driving carefully." = "Driving carefully could have stop the accident from moving to therethen."

  • "The accident could have been avoided by driving carefully." = "Driving carefully could have stop therethen from moving to the accident."

B = "Tom"

  • "The accident could have been prevented by Tom." = "Tom could have stop the accident from moving to therethen."

  • "The accident could have been avoided by Tom." = "Tom could have stop therethen from moving to the accident."


Separately, the relation of cause to effect is the same as the relation of effect to cause with direction inversed. In other words,

  • if everything is linked to everything else in an infinite loop,

    • then every effect is itself the cause-when-inverted-direction of its cause.

    • and "The accident could have been prevented" is equal to "The accident could have been avoided". (In other words, you could pick either sentence and they mean the exact same thing)

  • if not,

    • then every effect less the first effect is itself not the cause-when-inverted-direction of its cause.

    • and "The accident could have been prevented" is not equal to "The accident could have been avoided"

To Me, You prevent something before it actually happens (consideration leads to prevention), in case you are inconsiderate about something, and it happens, then you will regret and say that it could have been avoidable.

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