All Ears English Podcast - 1923: Don't Avoid This Episode! How to Prevent Mistakes in English

This is an All Ears English podcast, episode 1923.

Don’t avoid this episode.

How to prevent mistakes in English.

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What is the difference between prevent and avoid?

Today, we answer a great listener question with real-life examples,

role plays, and more. Listen in to discover English alongside Lindsay and Michelle.

Hello, Michelle. How’s it going?

Hey, Lindsay. Um, are you avoiding me?

Uh, I wasn’t. I wasn’t, but…

No, no, I don’t think you are. I don’t think we’d be podcasting together if you were avoiding me.

That’d be pretty, that’s pretty awkward if you’re avoiding somebody you work with.

That would be very awkward and frankly, unprofessional, right?

We can’t really do that. We can only really do that in our personal lives, avoid someone.

Right. Well, we should. Well, I don’t think we should avoid people in general, but,

but yeah, at work, that would be really bad.

Well, I mean, I have had the situation where, you know, do you ever have the situation? I think

I’ve asked you this before on the podcast, where you’ve become sort of friends with someone,

you’ve hung out with them a few times, and then all of a sudden you realize it’s not a friend

match, right? Like there’s romantic, but it’s not even a match in terms of being friends. Maybe

you don’t have the same values or you’re just kind of bored around the person. And how do you,

how do you get out of that when they really want to be your friend? Like they keep texting you.

What do you even say? Cause there is a context for it romantically.


But in terms of friends, there’s nothing really in our language to do that.

Yeah. It’s incredibly awkward and painful to do that. And because I don’t think anybody

ever wants to be mean. Like I don’t think people are like, I would like to be mean, right?

Of course not. Right.

So I think that it can be really uncomfortable. Yeah. That’s an awkward situation to feel like

you want to avoid like a new friend or something.

So maybe we’ll come back to that another day in a different episode.

Yeah. I don’t know. I don’t know if I’m the greatest at knowing how to do something like

that, but I could think about it. But Lindsay, are you avoiding anything in your life?

Oh, that’s a great question. Oh, big question. Maybe the child decision.

I might be avoiding that one a little bit, but I won’t share too much on the show. But yeah,

I might be, you know, kicking the can down the road a little bit too far. Maybe.

Well, that is a big decision.

Right. We can avoid little things or we can also avoid big things, big life-changing things. Right.

Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Yeah. I think avoiding decisions is very common. Like I’m avoiding

moving, like deciding where to move. And, you know, it’s like when you know,

like a decision needs to be made. But I’m outgrowing my apartment.

Are you looking to move out of your apartment? Right. You guys are a big family now.

Yeah. We’re stuffed. So.

Yeah. Yeah. It’s too much. Too much. Okay.

But yeah. Yeah. Like those big decisions, like what you’re saying, you can avoid them and put

them off is an expression you can use to put something off.

You can for sure. So we have a question from a listener today. Right. This is from Marcos. I’m

going to go ahead and read the question. Are you ready, Michelle?

All right. Yeah, please.

He says, Hi, guys. First of all, I want to thank you for your podcast.

It’s by far one of the best shows for English students. I’m a listener from the very beginning

of 2015. Oh, my gosh. So Marcos is one of our long time listeners, Michelle. I love that.

That’s great. It’s so nice. Yeah.

Thank you, Marcos, for listening. So here we go. I have a question for you.

Could you explain the difference, different nuances between avoid and prevent to sometimes

it’s difficult to know how to use one or the other best Marcos from Barcelona.

I want to go to Barcelona. Me too. That would be great.

Yeah, that’s a great question. And it’s funny because at first I was like, oh, well, this is

obvious. And then as I got I mean, not obvious, but I felt like I could just, you know, really

plan this one. No, no problem. But then I was getting into it. I’m like, yeah, it can be it

can be a little bit tricky. So, Lindsay, what is prevent? Let’s start with prevent.

OK, so, guys, so write this down. Get ready, because it’s a great question. And, you know,

there are layers to English. There are nuances, as Marcos said. We’re going to show you them now.

So prevent means to stop something that you don’t want to happen. Right. So maybe you’re thinking

ahead about something. Something is coming. For example, in order to prevent luggage from

weighing too much, we should pack light. OK, that’s one. What else, Michelle?

Or she prevented an injury by using her hands to break her fall.

Oh, then you break your wrists, right? Yeah, yeah, yeah. No, but that’s good. Yeah,

for sure. So preventing things. I’m trying to think of something recently, you know. Yeah,

I tried to prevent the wine bottles from breaking when I came back from Argentina. I had to bring

back some Malbec, obviously. I tried to prevent them from breaking by wrapping them, you know,

in lots of things and putting them in the middle of the suitcase. Right.

OK, good, good, good, good. Exactly. So avoid. Now let’s let’s move on to avoid. So this involves

not being somewhere or not talking to someone. So the dictionary mentioned, I quote,

to steer clear of something or someone. Right. So, for example, I’m going to avoid her because

I don’t want to have a confrontation. That’s kind of cool that the dictionary

used sort of an idiom or an expression to define it. Right. So that could be a bonus

for our listeners today. Steer clear of something. That’s good stuff. Yes, it is.

Yes. Yeah. Avoid her. So maybe, you know, not not go near her kind of if you’re at a party

and pretend you don’t see someone. Have you ever done that, Michelle?

Oh, well, you know, OK, I hear this is what I will do. Do you ever like you’re walking down

the street and you see like canvassers who are. Oh, stop you. I try to avoid them. Sometimes I

just look away or sometimes I the confession. Sometimes I pick up my phone and I pretend to

be on it. But you’re not. I’ve never done that. But I do sometimes like do a big loop around

on the sidewalks. Yeah, it must be a tough job. Right. That canvassing. Oh, yeah. I feel for them.

I actually feel for people who do this. It is hard. Like you really have to put yourself out

there and just have and like people don’t want to stop to talk to you. So they’re avoiding you.

Yeah, they and they often make fun of themselves and come up with a funny line,

you know what I mean? Which is good. You have to you have to have a sense of humor

if you’re being rejected like 10,000 times a day. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. There’s this one

just they set up right by my apartment. I forget what it was for. And every time I walk by,

I’d be like with my two kids or like with like the baby, like feeding her and like pushing the

stroller on the way to get my son like from school. And I’m just like so. And then they’re

like, hey, super mom. I’m like, hey, super mom. No, I like. Oh, wow. Yeah, it’s hard. Yeah. But

I do feel feel for that. It’s not an easy job. But let’s another example of avoid.

OK, lost my place. So let’s see where we want you to hop in there, Michelle. OK,

so the next example is let’s avoid Times Square right now because there’s too much traffic.

Yes. Avoid Times Square. And in general, I think I would recommend that all the time.

Right. Or you could or someone might say, why are you avoiding me now? This is something that a

close someone in your family might say. Right. This is when you’re closer to someone. You would

say this. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. If you say it to someone, you don’t know. Well, that it’s weird.

Be way too strong. It’s weird. Yeah. So don’t. Yeah, I don’t think so. But OK,

now let’s switch these examples. OK. And see if they still make sense. So this is kind of

an exercise. So here this goes back to the prevent example. So so we originally said,

what is with my headphone? We originally stick that thing in my ear. We originally said in order

to prevent luggage from weighing too much, we should pack light now. OK, switch it in order

to avoid luggage from weighing too much. We should pack light. Now, how does that sound to you?

It sounds a little weird to me. Does that sound weird to you?

It sounds a little bit weird to me in order to avoid. But like, technically,

it kind of it technically. Yeah. Well, I think grammatically I would rather say in order to

avoid having the luggage way too much. I think we need grammatically something different in there.

You know, we’d have to go into the grammar another day on it. Yeah. In order to or I’m not

sure maybe we’ll get into keep from keep something from doing something would be a bonus for today.

Maybe we’ll get into it later. In order to keep the luggage from weighing too much,

we should pack light. But I I think avoid luggage from weighing too much feels very

sound. Something sounds a little bit off, right? Yeah. Yeah. I don’t think it works

unless we change the wording. Right. True. But now let’s try this one. So we did.

She prevented an injury by using her hands to break her fall. Now switch it.

Yeah. This one works a little better. So she avoided an injury by using her hands to break

her fall. So I think that’s fine. So it’s kind of interesting because this is when I said,

like, at first I started planning this episode. OK, I got this. And then I’m like,

sometimes you can use them a little bit more interchangeably. I think prevent is is definitely

like a definite stop, whereas avoid in some contexts is more like you’re moving around

something. Yeah. Yeah. Moving around. Right. Right. Right. Yeah. I would I would say that’s

probably true. What about this next one? I’m going to prevent her because I don’t want to have a

comfort. So prevent her from doing what? Prevent. Well, originally it was I’m going to. No,

so that does not work. Doesn’t work. Doesn’t work. OK. And now let’s see what happens with

the Times Square example. So we said let’s avoid Times Square right now because there’s too much

traffic. Let’s prevent Times Square right now because. No, no, no, no. Say that.

Right. So that’s why I think avoid has a little something more to do with physics,

like kind of physical movement or like or not just physical, but like planning logistics.

Oh, yeah. Right. Like how we can switch. But Lindsay, could I say to you, why are you preventing

me? Well, no, no, no, no. Are you avoiding me? No, no. You you could say, why are you preventing me

from doing something? Something. But that totally that changes the meaning. Right.

It changes the meaning. So, no, you can’t say, why are you can’t say, why are you preventing me

just for avoiding? No. So in half the cases, Michelle, it’s interchangeable. And the other

half, it’s not. Right. So like we found it might be a little bit easier to slot avoid in to prevent.

But if you’re if you start if the basic one is avoid, you can’t necessarily if it’s truly about

like getting around something in that context, then prevent won’t work because prevent is really

like stop. Interesting. So this is trickier. This is a can of worms, as we say. Right. Right. Right.

But we’re going to go through it. We’re going to go through it a little bit deeper.

I love it. Here we go. OK, Michelle, so let’s get deeper. We see the problem now. We see

and sometimes they’re interchangeable. Sometimes they’re not. Let’s go deeper for our listeners

here. OK, well, basically, again, guys, I think the key difference is prevent is more about like

really trying to stop something. Avoid is more about this process of the getting around. OK,

it’s more like about that process. But OK, so what one expression that keeps popping into my head

is like avoid any confusion. Right. Do you ever hear that? Like in order to avoid any confusion?

Yeah, I would say we should like in order to avoid any confusion, we’ll post signs with

directions to the classrooms. Right. Right. Right. So you’re asking, could we say prevent

any confusion? Yeah. Hmm. I think you could get away with that. I think so, too. Yeah.

I think sometimes. Right. Like they’re both about this attempt to stop it. Right. Right. Right. Right.

Yeah. We’re attempting to stop something. I think where it ends up being the most different is when

you’re talking about physical movement, like your example or actually my example, both of us said

physically avoiding the people, the canvassers on the street. Yeah. Like you veer to the left

to avoid the car. Right. That’s interesting. You veer to the left to avoid the car, but to

prevent the accident. You don’t veer to the left to prevent the car. So prevent would be more for

events. Right. And avoid could be for events or like people, physical obstructions. Right. Right.

Right. Right. Right. Right. I’m not going to prevent the people on the street. Right. I’m

avoiding the canvassers. I’m not preventing them. However, I’m preventing them from talking to me.

Exactly. Yes. So that’s good. That’s a good insight there.

Mm hmm. Interesting. Interesting. And here’s another one. In order to prevent

getting pickpocketed, I always wear a belly bag.

Yeah. We know you told us this story in London, Paris.


Amsterdam. OK. You got pickpocketed in Amsterdam. Yeah. It’s OK. It happens to the best of us. Yes.

Yeah. Exactly. Exactly. So in order to prevent getting pickpocketed.

But if I say in order to avoid getting pickpocketed, I always wear a belly bag.

Now, to me, the difference is to prevent getting pickpocketed sounds more like a definite thing.

It’s an it’s an event. Right. It’s an event.

An event. Right. Yeah. But the truth is, I feel like avoid is the better decision because I can’t

completely prevent it.

Completely prevent it. Right. Right. Right. Yeah. Avoid. Prevent. Right. So you’re saying

prevent kind of implies that we have more control over this event. Prevent. I mean,

if you look at the word prevent, stop an event. Right.

Right. Pre. Ah, look at you.

Oh, look at that. We’re such linguists here at All Ears English.

We’re discovering our language alongside you guys.

Yeah. So. So. Right. No, I mean, I kind of think that this is cool, like when we can

really talk it through. Yeah. Together. And it’s complicated. It is nuanced. So this is

absolutely right. It is complicated. But I think the basic things there are some basic things to

remember. And so let’s just remind our listeners of like those core things to remember. Avoid

is more about like kind of getting away from some situation, from a person or from a process.

Right. It could be from a person. It could be an event. Prevent is to stop something from

happening. Some event from happening. Yes. I love it. That’s the those are the broad

brushstrokes of the differences. And then at that point, guys,

you’re going to start using this in conversation. So should we give some examples?

Yeah. Should we do a roleplay?

Yeah. Let’s do a roleplay. Let’s jump into the roleplay and then maybe we’ll come back

to some more examples. Right. So here we go. Michelle, what is happening?

All right. So, Lindsay, I haven’t spoken to you in weeks.

Oh, my gosh. But we ran into it. Yeah, I know. I’m sorry. But we ran

into each other at the grocery store. All right. Here we go.

Hi, Michelle. Oh, hi, Lindsay.

Are you avoiding me?

What? No, of course not.

Oh, well, it seems like something is off. I want to make sure we talk through things

in the future to prevent any issues when it comes to how the bills are paid.

Oh, Lindsay, I really want to avoid confrontation, so I don’t want to talk about it.

Yes, but please don’t prevent me from fixing the problem.

OK. All right. We’ll work it out. Let’s let’s talk about it.

Thanks. So, wow. Yeah. Did you say that we’re roommates here? I didn’t catch that part.

I guess we would be roommates. Yeah, I guess we would be roommates. Yeah,

that’s true. I didn’t say that specifically.

Oh, yeah. That’s not good. Oh, man. I had roommates for so long, so many years. And

you did, too, Michelle. And there must have been so many awkward moments and paying bills,

paying rent. My roommate used to get mad at me because I would I would get sick a lot in New

York. Just I think the subway, all the germs. But I would still go out like I would sometimes still

go. Not we’re not talking about pandemic sick. Right. This is like this is 20 20 2007 sick,

like a little cough, a little sore throat. No big deal. And I would still go to work because

you can’t take so many days. You can’t take every day off of work. You have to go to work.

And she would get mad at me. And so we would we would really get into this weird back and

forth about like I have to work. But she would get sick. Right. So I would go out, get sick,

bring it home. Oh, and then she would get mad at you. Oh, my gosh. We’re going to work.

I don’t know. Roommate life. Michelle, what can you do? So. All right. So this is a good example

where we’re throwing out prevent avoid in a lot of different ways. So let’s do it.

OK. So you said, are you avoiding me? Right. Are you avoiding me? Right. So I feel like socially

something a person, a person avoiding a person. So we know that’s definitely a void because I

would never say, are you preventing me? Never, never. OK, that’s the one clear takeaway from

today. I know we got a lot. We got we got a couple. We got a couple. But I know it is

challenging. It’s one of those things you’ll be listening to now and you’ll and you’ll hear,

oh, and I hear these. Yeah, exactly. So what’s the next one, Michelle, that I used?

OK, so you said, I want to make sure we talk things through in the future to prevent any issues. OK,

so to prevent any issues. And I think here I could also say avoid. Yeah. Yeah. It’s more about that

situation, the situation. I love it. And then you said, Lindsay, I really want to avoid confrontation,

so I don’t want to talk about it. I think also one of the thing to say is that if you have a

choice between the two, prevent feels a little more formal to me. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, I think so,

too. And an avoid confrontation. I would almost say that that’s just a chunk like that. Yeah. You

know, you say I don’t think you ever say like prevent confrontation. I feel like it’s just like

you say to avoid confrontation. Yeah, exactly. So we can learn this in chunks, too, guys. And

you will start doing that as you’re listening to English more and more. And then, Michelle,

what else? All right. And then you said, please don’t prevent me from fixing the problem. Right.

And we could never put a void there. Right. Please don’t avoid me from fixing. No, it wouldn’t work.

It wouldn’t work. And then I say, OK, well, I’ll work it out. Let’s talk. I just want to touch on

our listener asked about prevent to do we ever say prevent to know it’s more often prevent from

prevent you from doing something. Right. Yeah, we really and we also don’t say avoid to right now.

So take out two entirely, Marco. I love it. Maybe just a quick real world example here. Michelle,

are you doing anything right now to prevent something from happening? Are you doing anything

to prevent something from happening? Am I doing anything to prevent something from happening? I

am. Oh, my gosh, I know what? Yeah, well, I could throw in an example if you’re drawing a blank,

but did you have one? It sounds like you had an example. I didn’t. I actually know what I was.

It’s funny. Sometimes I write down these questions and then I should think of my

answer when I’m planning it. But instead, I’m like, well, let’s see what Lindsey has to say.

OK, put the burden on me. I got it. Well, I do have an answer. So every time it snows,

we put down pet safe salt to prevent our dog from getting his paws irritated. Oh,

to prevent our dog from getting his paw because sometimes the salt you put on the on the road

could really like we had to carry him home once, like we literally had to put him on our shoulder

and carry him home from the park because he had so much pain in his feet. Oh, sweetie.

Right. So that’s good to prevent it from happening. Exactly. Stop it. You want to

stop it completely. And I think that’s almost stronger than avoid because

yeah, it’s like it’s a little bit stronger. You don’t want him to. Yeah. In that situation. Yeah.

So I think for our listeners, guys, you know, what’s the takeaway here,

Michelle? Where can we leave our listeners on this one?

OK, it’s more complicated than it seems. The difference between those two guys. I know we,

Lindsey and I kind of went on this journey through this episode, discovering the differences

and really learning about it. So I think one of the takeaways is like, don’t stress sometimes

about these about these differences. Sometimes if you aren’t really sure of the difference,

start to just listen for it out. Listen, maybe for some chunks you hear and and realize that

there can be a lot of nuances. And it’s OK to kind of learn those things over time.

Yeah. Right. And to get used to it. Right. It may not be something where right away it’s like

one like boom, boom. Here’s the answer. Language is complicated and there are a lot of different

things to it. And learning those nuances sometimes, you know, so like but what you

can do is start with some of the basics. Sure. For sure. For sure. And we’ve gotten

started here today. There’s no perfect grammatical formula that we can show you

on this. Unfortunately, I wish there was. But don’t forget that what matters is connection,

not perfection. That’s what it always comes back to, Michelle. I love it. Yeah, absolutely. All

right. Well, guys, thank you so much for listening. Guys, remember to hit follow on the podcast so

that you never miss anything from All Ears English. And yeah, we’ll see you on the next one.

All right. Good stuff, Michelle. Thanks for hanging out. I’ll talk to you very soon.

All right. Bye. Bye.

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