English as a Second Language/Preclude vs prevent

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Question
Hi Jamie France-Hernandez!

Preclude and prevent seem to have the similar meaning, so I'm confused to tell them apart. Can you help me?

Thank you so much!

Ngan Tran

Answer
Hi Ngan and thanks for your question. You are correct that preclude and prevent have similar meanings and can sometimes be used interchangeably. The difference is subtle.

Prevent means to keep something from happening. Using an umbrella in the sun will prevent a sunburn. Using an umbrella = no sunburn. There is a direct correlation between the action and the effect.

Preclude, while still meaning to prevent something from happening, is usually used when something is being eliminated in advance - it is used to indicate when one event or circumstance is used to prevent another event or circumstance from happening but there are other options remaining. For example, "bad weather precluded him from flying" (he was unable to fly but he did something else instead). If you were to say "bad weather prevented him from flying" it means basically the same thing (he was unable to fly) but indicates that there were no other options involved.

It is also used when there is more than one possibility involved. For example, let's say a plane crashes. There could be more than one reason for the crash but it is apparent that bad weather was not a factor in the crash. "Bad weather was precluded from the reasons for the crash" (there could have been other reasons for the crash but bad weather was not one of them).

I hope this helps!
Jamie  

English as a Second Language

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Jamie France-Hernandez

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