Discussion in 'English Only' started by Gorann, Jan 13, 2008.
Could anybody explain me a difference between those two words?
unavoidable: an occurence you would rather avert or prevent, usually undesirable.
inevitable: this is more neutral neither positive or negative just something that was bound to happen.
I hope this was helpful.
"Unavoidable" means something that cannot be avoided. "Inevitable" means something that is bound to happen. Accordingly, in most contexts, they are synonyms.
I don't think there's a great difference between the meaning of the words - they both mean that circumstances have become such that whatever it is will be bound to happen, it cannot be avoided, but there is a slight difference in their application.
Unavoidable is more often used, in my view, for something which is bound to happen because one hasn't done anything to stop it. It's a bit suggestive of negligence, or ineptitude:
I didn't see the other car coming, so an accident was unavoidable.
Inevitable is perhaps used for more earth-shaking events, in which individuals have less say:
Once the earthquake had taken place, the great damage caused by the tsunami was inevitable.
So for me it's largely a matter of scale, and, therefore, has inherent consequences for individual responsibility.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary the two words are indeed synonymous. With regard to actual usage unavoidable usually refers to something one would rather have avoided.
You've said this twice now, Statuesque. You may be right, but have you any evidence to support it?
If one looks at a pleasant consequence, say winning a match as a footballer, does the one sound better than the other?:
1. We were playing well, so our victory was unavoidable.
2. We were playing well, so our victory was inevitable.
Yes, I think 2. sounds fine, and 1. absurd, so I agree with you.
1) In spite of the tumultuous nature of their relationship their union was inevitable/unavoidable.
2) The devastation caused by this human tragedy was inevitable/unavoidable.
I have to say I have not found anything to support or refute. I guess it's something I have always said to my foreign friends when I explain to help them get a sense of how to use the words best. My google searches have not yielded any rule of thumb yet.
It might help to point out that "inevitable" comes from the same root as "éviter", which means... "avoid".
I tend to believe there are no true synonyms, but unless there are no true translations these would be as close as it gets! I look forward to hearing, however, if anybody finds a usage difference.
Perhaps "inevitable" is used more for matters of fate and "unavoidable" for matters of human intervention?
Hi jusap, We have suggested usage differences, in several posts. Did you just not see them, or did you disagree with our suggestions?
Hi Thomas Tompion, I read them and look forward to more, and to more consensus! But I willingly concede I wasn't very clear about that.
For the victory example, I agree that 2. sounds a lot better.
I think I can't help but hear "éviter" in "inevitable" and so that colors it for me, just like "avoid" jumps out to you.
What do you think about the fate/human intervention possible dichotomy? Does that make any sense to you?
I like Stat2esque's distinction, and think that jusap's division between "matters of fate" and "matters of human intervention" is also valid.
By the way, welcome to the forums, Stat2esque. And Gorann
Don't you think it's implicit in my post 4?
Thomas Tompion, I don't equate scale or "earth shaking events" with fate. I consider, for example, the bombing of Hiroshima to be pretty huge and "earth shaking", but it can hardly be considered an event exempt of human intervention or responsibility. Perhaps you will say that the residents had no say in the matter and were subjected to it as they would be to an act of fate, but I, for one, do not wish to place the actions of governments on the same line as those of "God".
I was positing an amended, simpler dichotomy for consideration.
I'm going to say that these basically mean the same thing.
You can interchange them and still sound just fine.
Jusap, after earth-shaking that post says 'events, in which individuals have less say' and mentions earthquakes and tsunamis; now you, above, are drawing a distinction between those events and, to quote you, an event exempt of human intervention or responsibility. Earthquakes and Tsunamis come into that category surely. You appear to be reproaching me for a view I don't hold and haven't put forward.
You see, I think we are near to agreeing, but seem to be making rather heavy weather of it.
Thomas Tompion, I am not drawing a distinction between "eathquakes and tsunamis" and "events exempt of human intervention or responsibility", but rather suggesting that what truly distinguishes them from avoidable things (such as nuclear bombs) is not scale as I understood you to be suggesting in your post #4, but rather fate.
You wrote: " So for me it's largely a matter of scale, and, therefore, has inherent consequences for individual responsibility." Maybe your therefore threw me off here; I am unclear of how that causal relationship works.
By using the example of the tsunami you implied the workings of fate, certainly. And you mention the "inherent consequences for individual responsibility", so I too believe we are very close to agreement!
I have an issue with using "scale" as a barometer here, which perhaps you didn't mean to, both because human intervention can have world-wide repercussions as devastating as any, and because fate can also operate on a very small scale.
I am not even certain, however, that our distinction truly applies to the usage difference between "inevitable" and "unavoidable", and would love to hear more on this!
'Inevitable' refers to things such as death that are necessary due to the natural order of things and that occur unconditionally, and is used more of abstractions. 'Unavoidable' refers more to things that could potentially have been avoided if certain actions had been taken, and is used more frequently of specific events. 'Death' may be inevitable but a particular death at a particular time may be avoidable. It is not a matter of scale but one of conditions. World War II was not inevitable, but given the conditions in Europe, Hitler's aggressiveness, and Chamberlain's actions, it was unavoidable. More specifically, 'inevitable' things are smaller subset of things that are 'unavoidable'. Not everything that is unavoidable is inevitable.
The OED informs us that 'inevitable' means 'unavoidable' and vice versa.
While I do not subscribe to the idea of fate as something real, it does seem to me that 'inevitable' is the term more often applied to matters beyond human control, and 'unavoidable' more often to matters within human control.
The fact that we frequently use the positive form 'avoidable', while its counterpart 'evitable' is uncommon, seems to me to confirm this impression.
The OED is slightly off here. The terms are not mutually interchangeable. Not everything that is unavoidable is inevitable, but the reverse is true. 'War' and 'death' may be inevitable, but WWII and Hitler's death on a particular date were not.
That distinction is neat, but is it valid? To demonstrate it would require showing that the usage of the terms in respectable sources does in fact observe such a distinction.
The following more modest statement does no more than express a personal impression, without controverting the OED:
That is essentially what I am saying. 'Unavoidable' is less restricted.
Hi! I also sense that there is a dichotomy here: abstract (love) vs concrete (war) with no deity intervention and strong vs weak suggestion.
Where's God or fate intervention in this statement: "It is perhaps inevitable (or ineluctable?) that advanced technology will increase the pressure on employees." It seems to me more human's.
And an example with 'unavoidable' in relation to the same type of intervention: "Some job losses seem unavoidable." (Macmillan English Dictionary, 2002).
However, both 'inevitable' and 'ineluctable' imply a strong reference to actions or events more abstract than concrete that are impossible to avoid while 'unavoidable' seem to infer more concreteness. Still, no dictionary entries point that.
'Love is inevitable' and I assume not 'unavoidable'.
Both love and war are humane.
To this, I may add that war can be 'inevitable' or 'unavoidable', though it is a concrete noun.
Also, love and war though different, they are very powerful nouns so, they need 'strong' adjectives.
To conclude, of course they are synonyms but they do not overlap completely.
There is a difference between saying (a) that that is a fact and saying (b) that it is our personal impression.
To suppport (b), all we need is our own observation and reflection. To support (a) would need facts.
I think the shades of meaning are illuminated by the fact that "avoidable" is a common word, whereas "evitable" is much less so. Hence, calling something "unavoidable" immediately suggests that there are circumstances in which it could have been avoidable; "inevitable" doesn't make you wonder "well, maybe it could have been evitable." Equally, you can avoid something, but you can't evit it - evitting isn't an option.
Therefore, if something is "unavoidable", the implication is that this is because of some earlier mistake or mis-choice; had the mistake not been made, it would have been avoidable. If something is "inevitable", there is no suggestion that different choices could have made it "evitable".
There is another angle too, which is similar to some of the points made earlier. The prefix "un-" has more negative or undesirable (indesirable?) overtones than "in-". "Unattainable", "unsound" or "unreasonable" are more judgemental than "invisible", "inexplicable" or "inconsistent". Therefore, "unavoidable" has a more negative connotation (it would have been better had it been avoidable) than "inevitable".
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