Preventive Versus Preventative

The shorter word is usually the better choice, but don't get carried away and start thinking that choosing the shorter word is a hard-and-fast rule. 

Mignon Fogarty
4-minute read
Episode #403

Orient is the older verb, but its rival, orientate, has been around since the mid-1800s. 

We often make new words by adding suffixes. For example, we got the word syndication by adding the -ion suffix to the end of the verb syndicate. But the process can also work in reverse: we can make new words by dropping suffixes. For example, we got the verb edit by dropping the suffix from editor. That’s called back formation, and it’s how lexicographers think we got the word orientate—by dropping the -ion suffix from orientation

Orient and orientate are both acceptable English verbs, but orient has become the preferred form in American English, whereas orientate coexists more strongly with orient in British English. If you’re writing for Americans, you’d write about family-oriented activities; but for a British audience, you may write about family-orientated activities. (3) (Note the different scales on the two charts below. I couldn’t find a way to combine them both on one. American English Chart Source. British English Chart Source.)

The Verb Orient Is Clearly Preferred in American English

orient verb American


Although the Verb Orient Is Still More Common Than Orientate in British English, Orientate Is More Common in British English Than It Is in American English.

orient verb British

To sum up, in both cases there’s a preferred form in American English—the shorter form: preventive and orient—but in both cases the other word isn’t wrong either.


1. “preventive; *preventative.” Garner, B. Garner’s Modern American Usage, 3rd Edition. Oxford University Press. 2009, p. 658.

2. “preventative, preventive.” Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage. Springfield: Merriam-Webster. 1994. p. 770.

3. “Orientate.” Grammarist website. http://grammarist.com/usage/orientate/ (accessed February 21, 2014).

Books Mentioned in This Article


Double image courtesy of Shutterstock.


About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show. Her popular LinkedIn Learning courses help people write better to communicate better.