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Is it possible to say "proofreading can avoid mistakes"? This is a quote from an online article. I would say "proofreading can prevent mistakes", but I want to understand the word usage.

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    I agree with you. The better version is, "proofreading can prevent mistakes". Where did you find the text? Nov 10, 2015 at 19:39
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    I agree that using "avoid" in this case is weird, and would opt for "prevent". But you could also say something like, proofreading can help you avoid mistakes".
    – Ben
    Nov 10, 2015 at 19:40
  • Is that the whole sentence? I think a sentence like "Competent proofreading can avoid mistakes" could work, but it would be referring to mistakes in the proofreading itself. Usually, in the context of proofreading, the mistakes one's thinking of are mistakes in the thing that's being proofread. In that context "prevent" sounds very much better.
    – Rupe
    Nov 10, 2015 at 19:40
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    Is there any possibility that it's a joke?
    – Rupe
    Nov 10, 2015 at 19:42
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    Proofreading corrects mistakes after they happen; it does not prevent them from happening in the first place. It does prevent their being published, though. (I refer, of course, to the marking rather than the reading part of the proofreader's job.) Nov 10, 2015 at 20:28

2 Answers 2

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The act of proofreading is meant to identify and fix mistakes. By proofreading you're already supposing that mistakes have been made. There is no avoiding or preventing something that already occurred (unless you have a blue police box). The only way "proofreading can avoid mistakes" would be if Proofreading was an entity, and the fragment was followed with "by taking greater care in their work" or the equivalent. In my opinion I think a better way of putting it would be "proofreading can rectify mistakes".

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    From one point of view, this brief analysis is certainly correct. But I am reminded of a saying that one of my first employers was fond of repeating: "It's not a mistake until it leaves this building." So while it would have been an error if it had reached print, a typo caught in manuscript, galleys, or even mechanicals (in the old days) was simply a typo that someone extirpated before it achieved the status of a full-blown mistake—no harm, no foul. In accordance with such a view, good proofreading avoided mistakes or prevented them from seeing the light of day.
    – Sven Yargs
    Nov 13, 2015 at 7:47
  • You're absolutely right in context. However, read in a vacuum I felt obligated to be a bit persnickety since the OP wanted help clarify word usage.
    – Misneac
    Nov 13, 2015 at 11:18
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I agree that the phrase "proofreading can avoid mistakes" does not sound right.

But I still think if you want to use the word "avoid", you could say "proofreading helps avoid mistakes"

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  • Why? Please add references and citations to prove you are correct, rather than us having to take your word for it. Jul 5, 2017 at 13:15

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