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I want to use the word 'pre-empt' because I think it fits best, but is it correct to pre-empt a possibility of something happening? I'm not sure it sounds right. My sentence is:

I want someone to start in May, but as the Indian summer is May / June, I want to pre-empt the possibility that one of them will be on leave then, so I am sending two proposals.

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yes, this is a normal use of preempt –  Matt Эллен Mar 6 '12 at 10:40
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It is, I suppose, technically valid, but does feel a bit awkward to me. Preempt is usually used in a more active context. Actions and forces are preempted, but possibilities seem to stretch the definition a bit. It seems more like you are anticipating the possibility that one of them will be on leave, and so are sending two proposals... –  heathenJesus Mar 6 '12 at 12:21
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If you want to pre-empt the possibility that one of them will be on leave, that means you want to make sure that neither one of them will be able to be on leave then. If that is what you are trying to say, then it is correct. –  KitFox Mar 6 '12 at 13:20
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3 Answers

Both "pre-empt" and "counter" imply opposition to the foreseen event. I suggest "anticipate" instead:

I want someone to start in May, but as the Indian summer is May / June, I want to anticipate the possibility that one of them will be on leave then, so I am sending two proposals.

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At a stretch, preempt ("to appropriate something (before someone else does)" or "to displace something, or take precedence over something") can be used as you suggest, but I'd prefer preclude ("remove the possibility of; rule out; prevent or exclude; to make impossible") or forestall ("to prevent, delay or hinder something by taking precautionary or anticipatory measures; to avert" or "to preclude or bar from happening, render impossible"), or decrease, limit, etc. depending on your purpose and the intensity with which you propose to counter the possibility. More colloquially, consider scotch, stymie, and stave off.

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If you know something is likely to happen, you can try to circumvent it:

: to manage to get around especially by ingenuity or stratagem


So you could write:

I want someone to start in May, but as the Indian summer is May / June, I want to circumvent the possibility that one of them will be on leave then, so I am sending two proposals.

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