Watch your ‘Ta ta’s’ in Preventative, Exploitative, Authoritative

www.RuthlessEditor.comI’ve often said that English is a complicated language. It’s no wonder non-native English speakers struggle to learn and understand it. Those of us brought up in English-speaking homes can struggle with it as well.

My last blog covered commentate and orientate: Are they real words? Or should it be comment and orient?

The following words have a questionable extra syllable. Which do you consider grammatically correct?

prevent / preventive / preventative

prevent as a verb: designed to keep something undesirable such as illness, harm or accidents from happening
preventive as a noun: a preventive agent or measure; a medicine or other treatment designed to stop disease or ill health from occurring
preventive as an adjective: serving to protect or hinder; a drug, vaccine, etc., for preventing disease
preventative: Most sources now say that preventative is an acceptable substitute for the adjective preventive.

But why would you use a four-syllable word when a three-syllable word means the same thing?

exploit / exploitive / exploitative

exploit as a verb: to use, especially for profit; to use selfishly for one’s own ends; to unfairly or cynically use another person or group for profit or advantage
exploit as a noun: a bold or daring feat
exploitative as an adjective (not exploitive): tending to exploit, such as exploitative terms of employment or an exploitative company

Just as I was surprised that preventative is considered an acceptable substitute for preventive, I was surprised to find exploitative preferred over exploitive. So much for my guideline of using a shorter word when possible.

authority / authoritive / authoritative

authority as a noun: the power to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience; a person or organization having power in a particular (typically political or administrative) sphere
authoritative as an adjective
(not authoritive): having or arising from authority; able to be trusted as being accurate or true; reliable; commanding and self-confident

When searching for other common words ending in –tive, I found this handful starting with the letter a that are derived from the Latin –ivus, meaning pertaining to or tending to. Note that argumentative is the only one consistent with authoratative’s extra syllable:

abortive | accumulative | accusative | adaptive | addictive | administrative | affective | affirmative | alternative | appreciative | argumentative | assertive | attentive | attractive | automotive

The bottom line: Not only is English often illogical; it’s also inconsistent. No wonder those learning English as a second language struggle to make sense of it.

Are you puzzled by a word with usage you have long found confusing? Check out my Grammar for People Who Hate Rules: Killer Tips From The Ruthless Editor. Or send me an email: I’d love to hear from you!

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Kathy Watson

Kathy Watson has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers standard usage guidelines of The Associated Press Stylebook. Her easy-to-use Grammar for People Who Hate Rules helps people write and speak with authority and confidence. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)