Preserve or Conserve?

These two words are frequently confused in English.

In some languages there is very little difference between the words

In English however, even though the difference is subtle,
it is sometimes misunderstood.

  • means to keep something from aging or spoiling, keeping its present state for a future time.
    In other words, when we preserve something we keep it intact, safe and protect it from possible destruction. Examples:

    • Our local council is doing a good job of preserving the green areas around town.
    • We must make more of an effort to preserve wild life.
    • This is a beautiful old house. We should preserve it for the future.

  • means to use something carefully and sparingly as it may be in short supply. You conserve your energy in a long-distance race, rather than using it all at the beginning. Examples:

    • During the hot weather, we try to conserve water.
    • The horse conserved its energy for the final lap, by starting slowly.
    • During the night, shop keepers conserve energy by switching off their logo signs.


Try this short exercise, and be sure you know the difference:

  1. Refrigerators are used to help to _____ food.
  2. We should protect the environment and _____ the rain-forests.
  3. We used to salt and smoke meat in order to _____ it.
  4. Ancient manuscripts and books should be _____ for eternity.
  5. We should _____ water during the rainy season, to last us through the dry.
  6. Make fruit _____ (jam, jelly) by cooking with sugar and sealing in cans.
  7. _____ electricity by turning out the lights when leaving the room.
  8. Zoos and nature _____ don’t allow the public in after nightfall.
  9. A fund should be set up with a view to _____ the planet.
  10. An example of _____ is a program to try to save historic buildings.


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