In the command form, "avoid" seems to have a weak connotation. For example, the sentence "Avoid Macaroni and Cheese" almost seems to have the clause "if you can" in it even though it doesn't.

So, is my observation correct that avoid is a weak command or at least has the connotation? If so, what are some alternatives to it that might be stronger?

I considered "Stay away from," but I think the length and separateness makes it lose its emphasis, so I would prefer something shorter.

Perhaps my lighthearted example of "Macaroni and Cheese" mislead some people. My purpose in using "avoid" instead of a command form of "Do not" is because I do not want to specify the action. I want to use it in the context of something like "Avoid alcohol".

Instead of "Do not drink alcohol," "avoid alcohol" includes all sorts of other actions that I would otherwise have to specify (for example, using alcohol in cooking, staying in the company of those who drink alcohol, going to a place with alcohol, etc.)

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – tchrist
    Commented Feb 10, 2019 at 22:05
  • I don't think there's a short phrase of the form "____ alcohol" that says what you want. You have a lot of specific actions you want performed and you're going to have to list them even more explicitly than in the list you gave. (Does "a place with alcohol" include private homes? A supermarket that sells wine? New York City? The United States? Earth?) Once you have communicated that list (which will still be ambiguous, unfortunately), you can use "avoid alcohol" as a reminder about all those things.
    – David K
    Commented Feb 11, 2019 at 13:56
  • I came here for the sole purpose of saying "Eschew obfuscation".
    – Mitch
    Commented Jun 24, 2019 at 19:54

23 Answers 23


I think the simplest way to emphasize avoidance would be to use the word shun.

shun v. tr.
to keep away from; take pains to avoid.
See TFD Online

Note the "take pains" in the definition. It suggests a strenuous avoidance, which should be what you're looking for.

Nota bene: To all those who subscribe to the narrow viewpoint that shun is archaic, or only ever used for people, or subject to other strictures, here are a few current links. Note that the first link is from the Washington Post and is no more than a few months old.

Will the new women in Congress embrace bipartisanship—or shun it?
Do you shun the use of autoclickers?
Dividend ETFs Tend to Shun Tech Sector—Barron's
CR Boldface: Shunning the use of titles
NM debtors tend to shun filing Chapter 13
Why did nomadic peoples shun the use of pottery?
... and my current favorite:
Consumers shun macaroni products (!)

Shun is not only commonplace but is frequently used in a variety of contexts by intelligent English speakers—especially when they want to make a strong statement about avoidance. This has been true for centuries and is still true today.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – tchrist
    Commented Feb 10, 2019 at 22:05

How about plain old Do not? It's not sexy, but it gets the point across unambiguously.

I'm jumping in with an edit...

Avoid setting the cat/house on fire.

Shun setting the cat/house on fire.

Abstain from setting the cat/house on fire.

Do not set the cat/house on fire.

  • 2
    It does not work with nouns, though. I would have to specify actions.
    – The Z
    Commented Feb 7, 2019 at 18:53
  • 6
    +1. Saying "eschew" or "shun" macaroni and cheese seems very strange to me (US); "abstain from" is a little better; but "[please] Do not [let him/her] eat macaroni and cheese" is clear, direct, and natural.
    – cag51
    Commented Feb 7, 2019 at 20:41
  • @cag51 British here, and both read like something a Victorian might say. Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 13:41
  • Only well-educated Victorians, or well-educated Elizabethans [as in Elizabeth II] ;o) but still, one would shun the cat, not setting it on fire, I feel. They're not bad words, they just don't match the setting here. Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 17:03

Not sure how strong you want to be here, but, eschew is pretty strong.

From MW eschew:

eschew v.

to avoid habitually on moral or practical grounds

  • 4
    It's also archaic, and you'd have a fair challenge finding native English speakers who know the word. Technically correct, but it won't help the OP to get the message across.
    – Graham
    Commented Feb 7, 2019 at 22:04
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    +1 This is the first word that came to my mind too. It's not at all archaic, merely formal.
    – Noldorin
    Commented Feb 7, 2019 at 23:34
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    It is news to me that eschew (and shun or spurn) are old-fashioned or, further, archaic. Admittedly, eschew is more likely to be written than spoken these days, but I don't see why there should be disdain for such fine words.
    – Andy G
    Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 15:43
  • 2
    And in the contexts I tend to see it, to me it carries the connotation that you're avoiding something in favor of some other thing or because you've found a way to achieve some goal without the thing you're eschewing. Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 18:34
  • 6
    @graham Of course it's not archaic, don't be daft. Archaic doesn't mean "I haven't seen it on my facebook feed."
    – barbecue
    Commented Feb 9, 2019 at 19:59

The expression to steer clear of something or someone sounds stronger, I think. It's oftentimes used in situations where you're advised to avoid something that can be very dangerous for you. Somebody advising you against doing drugs would be one good example. The following is how the Cambridge Dictionary defines this expression:

to avoid someone or something that seems unpleasant, dangerous, or likely to cause problems

Example sentence:

They warned their children to steer clear of drugs.

  • 1
    "Steer clear" is rather colloquial, and may not fit the tone the OP is looking for.
    – user89175
    Commented Feb 9, 2019 at 21:34

The phrasing "Avoid <noun>" implies physically avoiding contact with it. It may be necessary to replace the noun (in the example "macaroni and cheese") with a verb phrase clarifying the activity you want to be avoided (presumably eating in this case).

In any case, if you are going to introduce a verb phrase, it would be better to just say "Do not <verb>...".

"Avoid macaroni and cheese" - Ambiguous. Should I just not be in the same room as macaroni and cheese?

"Avoid eating macaroni and cheese" - Better, but still not an absolute command.

"Do not eat macaroni and cheese" - Most direct



restrain oneself from doing or enjoying something

While abstaining, a person consciously restrains himself from taking pleasure.


"she intends to abstain from sex before marriage"

  • 2
    "Abstain" means consciously avoiding something you would actually enjoy. If you're avoiding it for reasons of religion or diet, it's correct. If you're avoiding it for more serious reasons, it is not. A person with nut allergies doesn't "abstain from" eating nuts, and we don't "abstain from" tapdancing on the edge of a cliff or juggling hand grenades.
    – Graham
    Commented Feb 7, 2019 at 21:55
  • Except, of course, when people abstain from voting... Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 17:04
  • @Graham abstain ALSO means to refrain from engaging in something which could be deleterious or harmful. Enjoyment is NOT a requirement. And how do you figure religion or diet are not "serious reasons?"
    – barbecue
    Commented Feb 9, 2019 at 20:03

Although this would make the phrase longer, I would suggest adding some modifiers to avoid to make it firmer. Use modifiers which emphasize you should not even be considering whatever you're avoiding. Here are some examples:

Completely avoid alcohol.

Strictly avoid alcohol.

Avoid alcohol at all costs.

Note: this answer was edited with suggestions from the commenters, as some of the previous phrases were non-idomatic. Thanks Eric Wofsey and user568458!

  • 8
    "Strongly" and "vehemently" are strange-sounding modifiers to use with "avoid", but "completely" and "at all costs" are good choices. Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 6:34
  • That's right, I agree with you; to be honest, I couldn't think up of acting better alternatives than those last two Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 14:04
  • 2
    "Strictly avoid" sounds more natural than "Strongly avoid". Commented Feb 11, 2019 at 13:58

Use do not [verb].

Anglophone culture, especially formal Anglophone culture, thinks of direct commands and blunt statements as being rude. A sentence like do not eat macaroni and cheese contains the forcefulness you want, but it's also blunt in a way that's unacceptable in certain contexts.

This is less true today, what with the trend of modern Anglophone culture towards informality, but it's not gone. This is what makes avoid useful. Unlike do not, avoid is a suggestion, not a command. Do not requires an explicit verb, avoid can leave the verb unstated. The reason avoid seems so soft is because seeming soft is the entire point!

The same applies to eschew, abstain from, and all other formal words. Just compare:

Avoid murder.

Eschew murder.

Abstain from murder.

Do not murder.

Use do not if you want force. Everything else is just an elaborate way to avoid having that force.


Using NO is a viable and ideal 'stronger' and 'shorter' alternative to 'avoid'.

No Swimming
No Smoking
No Entry

It is unambiguous and authoritative.

NO means NO.

The best solution is often the simplest.

  • 1
    Upvoted because this is a perfectly reasonable answer and there's not a damn thing wrong with it. This is exactly what my doctor would say to me about avoiding a bad health habit. NO SATURATED FATS! NO SUGAR!
    – barbecue
    Commented Feb 9, 2019 at 20:09
  • @LightnessRacesinOrbit fair call, and good advice. In future I'll post separate comments where it's helpful to address low quality (objectively defined as having come up on the LQ review queue) and correctness (subjectively considered, i.e. whether I agree or not). Of course, many don't bother to comment on either: they vote to delete, and/or downvote it, but provide no explanation to the unfortunate user. I know how that felt when I started, so I always add a comment, and sometimes I cop the flak for it. Commented Feb 11, 2019 at 2:18
  • -1. Your solution of "NO" is only "unambiguous" in specific contexts, since it can easily be interpreted as "none available" rather than "don't eat". For example, does a "NO macaroni & cheese" note on the fridge door mean avoid it, or buy some more because we've run out? Commented Feb 11, 2019 at 2:25
  • @Chappo I think you're being pedantic. Context matters, and it's almost always obvious from the context. "No macaroni & cheese" on a fridge door obviously means there is no mac and cheese in the fridge. There's no other reasonable way to interpret that. It's a fridge. People don't get instructions for what to eat from fridge doors. If someone means "don't eat the mac, it's bad", that's what they would write. Now, if a doctor writes "no macaroni & cheese" on a note and gives it to a patient, they obviously mean no eating mac and cheese. See what I mean? It's a non-issue.
    – user91988
    Commented Mar 8, 2019 at 21:06
  • @only_pro My own fridge has a shopping list pad on the door. We normally buy macaroni & cheese, but my daughter's on a new diet. Are you so sure the message means we've run out, and "there's no other reasonable way to interpret that"? It can't mean I'm not to buy mac/cheese because of her diet? You might like to reconsider your emphatic dismissal of alternative interpretations, and also your use of loaded, judgemental words like pedantic, obviously and reasonable - see Code of Conduct. Commented Mar 8, 2019 at 23:12

Along the lines of "abstain" is also the word "refrain", though again, you would still need to add "from" + an action. Eg. Refrain from eating macaroni and cheese.

Alternatively, "reject" or "refuse" could work, especially if one expects to be offered macaroni and cheese often or have it around a lot. "Forsake" is an option too (though uncommon parlance), with a bit more permanent implications. To "forsake macaroni" might be some moral or expected-to-be-permanent rejection of the food, perhaps if one was going vegan. None of these three would require a verb, and all would go directly before the noun.


I propose Reject

dismiss as inadequate, unacceptable, or faulty.

I find it has connotations of purposefulness, forcefulness and determination.

You aren't just steering away from mac and cheese, if you come into contact you'll proactively push it away.

"Little Jimmy rejected the proffered bowl; shoving it on the floor. Mac-n-cheese was the worst!"


If you're OK with a distinctly old-testament flavour:


regard with disgust and hatred.

This might be an interesting choice as it does not command the desired action directly, but rather the state of mind from which the action naturally flows.

  • 5
    While it might produce the same result, I'm not sure that "abhor" works as a direct synonym for "avoid". I abhor paying taxes but I don't avoid paying them. Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 13:14
  • Good point, it works best in the context of voluntary things.
    – ryanm
    Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 14:47
  • 3
    @ryanm "Abhor" describes one's feelings towards a thing rather than an action taken with regard to that thing. Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 18:36
  • You can tell me to avoid something, you can't tell me to abhor it. Diabetics should avoid ice cream, even though many love it.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Feb 9, 2019 at 13:51

Two more options for you:

One could offer the command to "cut out" alcohol/macaroni/slovenliness/whatever. By evoking an image of excising something that's unwanted or dangerous, this phrase communicates intentionality as well as thoroughness. It seems most appropriate when the undesirable behavior/environment is already present, however, which is not always the case.

"Repudiate" could also be a good choice if the avoidance involves taking an overt stance on something. It's sometimes used to indicate verbally rejecting something (and quite strongly), but with such wholeheartedness that one refuses to be associated (positively) with the thing being rejected.

  • 1
    Upvoted for "cut out" which is commonly used with nouns, especially foods, when referring to diet.
    – barbecue
    Commented Feb 9, 2019 at 20:13

In income tax terminology, evade is a much stronger word than avoid. In fact, avoiding taxes is legal and evading taxes is illegal.

An example of avoiding taxes is to have paid some medical bills in 2018 which were not due until 2019. The floor on the medical tax deduction for 2018 is 7.5%, as opposed to 10% for 2019. Of course the calculation is not this simple, and you would have to take into account what your medical bills were in 2018 versus what they are likely to be in 2019. But this is legal, and avoiding taxes is recommended by CPAs. (If you didn't do this already, it is too late.)

An example of evading taxes is to not report income or to overstate deductions. For example to "make a mistake" by overstating your charitable deductions. There are many sophisticated ways to evade taxes, and they are illegal.

See, for example What is the difference between tax avoidance and tax evasion. I will not quote from this article, because it would only verify what I said above, not significantly add to it.

Whether you can take this distinction and apply it to diet busting foods like chocolate cream pie a la mode is problematical.

  • But evade implies putting out effort to prevent something required or normally inevitable. Avoid implies that there is more of an option.
    – WGroleau
    Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 4:44
  • 5
    "evade macaroni and cheese" sounds really weird.
    – Evargalo
    Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 9:27
  • 5
    @Evargalo The macaroni and cheese is comin' to get ya! Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 18:35
  • 1
    +1 for saying this before I could. For something as trivial as macaroni and cheese, anything “stronger” than avoid is going to sound farcical in any case. Might as well go whole hog from the outset.
    – user205876
    Commented Feb 9, 2019 at 20:39
  • 2
    @Evargalo Indeed -- "evade" implies an avoidance of a thing that was aimed directly at you, or which was actively pursuing you. The only way I can imagine "evading" macaroni and cheese would be in the context of a food fight.
    – user89175
    Commented Feb 9, 2019 at 21:38

Just for completeness sake: (from Dictionary.com)

Abjure ab·jure /abˈjo͝or,əbˈjo͝or/ v. FORMAL

solemnly renounce (a belief, cause, or claim).


I agree with @Robusto that shun is the simplest and therefore in most situations the best. All the alternatives I can think of are slightly (or very) anachronistic.

That said, spurn - while a little old-fashioned - adds an extra note of active disdain.

spurn v.

to reject with contempt

  • And "shun" is possibly the most archaic of them all. Fine for the King James Bible, not appropriate today unless you're putting on a 17th century costume drama.
    – Graham
    Commented Feb 7, 2019 at 22:06
  • 1
    @Graham The phrase "shun/shuns/shunning the limelight" is still in common use today, by tabloid and highbrow newpapers alike, as a casual web search could have shown you. It's less common in other usages but not unknown. Your use of "archaic" here is entirely incorrect.
    – itsbruce
    Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 15:53
  • @itsbruce the fact that a single phrase is still in use, despite containing TWO obsolete words ("shun" and "limelight" - nobody has used limelight for illumination since the 19th century!) says nothing about other possible uses of "shun" (or of "limelight").
    – alephzero
    Commented Feb 9, 2019 at 0:05
  • @alephzero "shun the spotlight" and "shun publicity " also not hard to find
    – itsbruce
    Commented Feb 9, 2019 at 4:34

You could go for a warning instead of (or in addition to) an advice.


To be on guard against; be cautious of: "Beware the ides of March" (Shakespeare).

From there we get such warnings as:

  • Beware macaroni and cheese and its users
  • Be cautious of macaroni and cheese and its users
  • Be extremely wary of macaroni and cheese and its users
  • Exercise extreme caution in the vicinity of macaroni and cheese or its users

Which can be coupled to an (embellished) advice such as:

  • avoid like the plague
  • keep your distance at all costs
  • maintain a distance of at least 10 m or suffer certain death

Several options off the top of my head:

  • avert
  • fend off
  • abstain
  • desist
  • refrain
  • 2
    This would be improved with some explanation of why each alternative is suitable as a stronger alternative to "avoid". Commented Feb 9, 2019 at 8:10
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    – V2Blast
    Commented Feb 9, 2019 at 10:09

How about never ever...!? I.e. as in Never ever touch drugs!

Exclamation mark is an additional way to make it stronger.

It's also possible to make it a commandment and add some solemnity:

You shall never ever touch drugs!

I have received the advice for programming, when seeking to imply the most strict level of requirement, to use the word must, as in "You must avoid mac & cheese," or "You must not eat mac and cheese."

RCF2119 "Key words for use in RCFs to Indicate Requirement Levels": https://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc2119.txt

MoSCoW prioritization: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MoSCoW_method

  • Welcome to English.SE! Take the tour, and check out the help center for more guidance. You should support your answer with evidence and/or explanation, such as a citation to a dictionary definition that shows how your suggestion fits OP's request.
    – V2Blast
    Commented Feb 9, 2019 at 10:09

I personally like the following best, which have have connotations of avoid, but with more force:

  • eschew (formal)
  • abstain from (slightly formal)
  • evade (although it has the implication that the avoidance is more "active")
  • shun

Equally suitable is an adverb or adverbial phrase attached to avoid or one of its near-synonyms. E.g., absolutely/wholeheartedly avoid or avoid like the plague (as trite a simile as it is!) would work well.

Of course, the choice should always be dependent on the context and the specific use...


There's another answer which nobody has mentioned (though this use is a little archaic):


Merriam-Webster lists the definition as:

to look down on with contempt or aversion

The usual use is contempt, but it's certainly possible to use it as "Despise macaroni and cheese" meaning "Avoid macaroni and cheese", and as an imperative it'll be more easily understood that way. Again, though, I'm pretty sure it's archaic so YMMV.

  • It can mean to hold in contempt, but can also mean to regard as worthless or of no value, and in this context it is somewhat archaic.
    – barbecue
    Commented Feb 9, 2019 at 20:12


  1. to go or maneuver around
  2. to sail or fly around; make the circuit of by navigation

"I carefully circumnavigated the dead bird on the sidewalk."

  • 8
    This doesn't make sense in the example given: "Circumnavigate macaroni and cheese"?!
    – Laurel
    Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 2:28
  • As you progress along the line at the steam table, circumnavigate the macaroni and cheese. It’s a little fanciful, but it’s also perfectly sensible, since it serves as an “overdelicate” euphemism for a dish that might otherwise be more crudely described.
    – user205876
    Commented Feb 9, 2019 at 20:49

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