Thursday, April 17, 2008

Preventive, Preventative

Q. Should it be preventative or preventive? I’ve heard both of them used, but that seems redundant.

A. This one is a bit thorny. Conservative commentators such as Bryan Garner (Modern American Usage) huff and puff about preventative: “The strictly correct form is preventive (as both noun and adjective) though the corrupt form with the extra internal syllable is unfortunately common.”

Then there are those with a longer memory of history, such as Merriam-Webster’s Concise Dictionary of English Usage: “The critics have panned preventative for over a century, preferring its shorter synonym preventive in spite of the fact that both words have been around for over 300 years and both have had regular use by reputable writers.”

The first instance of preventive given by the Oxford English Dictionary is by Francis Bacon in 1626. The first citation for preventative is from Roger Boyle Orrery in 1655.

The conclusion? Neither one is a corruption, but many contemporary grammarians favor the shorter version.

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