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I was forbidden to make such requests.

I feel that this is not English. But how can I express that somebody said that I am not authorized for this action?

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I was forbidden to... could be used, but it sounds too formal or strong. I was not allowed to..., I was not permitted to..., I didn't have permission to..., (S)he or They specifically asked me not to... There could be more. – Rathony Feb 9 at 12:06
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That is certainly English. The register is not casual, on the formal side. We tend not to use the word "forbidden" in everyday contexts. It often appears in legal and religious contexts, or when people are "laying down the law", e.g. parents telling kids what they cannot do, but in an especially stern manner. – TRomano Feb 9 at 12:09
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"Forbidden" normally takes the preposition "from", not "to", which may also contribute why the sentence seems off. Try I was forbidden from making such requests. – Harrison Paine Feb 9 at 16:09
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Intiutively, I was forbidden to make such requests seems very awkward, due to a vague sense that there is a lack of agreement that's a bit difficult to quantify -- yet, there are two variants, either I was forbidden to make such a request (referring to a singular or specific request) or I was forbidden from making such requests (referring to multiple or perhaps an indeterminate number of requests of a certain class), both of which seem quite natural and correct to me. – Michael - sqlbot Feb 9 at 20:32
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@Adam: It's completely wrong to say "F from + gerund" is more common (see this chart, showing that the gerund-based usage is almost non-existent compared to the standard infinitive). And unless I'm missing something, "F to + noun" can't occur, because it's inherently ungrammatical. – FumbleFingers Feb 10 at 12:58
up vote 18 down vote accepted

Your sentence

I was forbidden to make such requests.
I was forbidden from making such requests

is correct and understandable that someone has told you not not make requests
Another way to say this is

I am not allowed to make such requests
I was told not to make such requests

If you are within a structure where you need to have a certain level of clearance

I am not authorised to
I don't have permission to

for explanation you could use

I am not able to make such requests because...

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That is exact - somebody told me that I shall not do it. – Leos Literak Feb 9 at 17:39
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I would also change it slightly to say "I was forbidden from making such requests" – CobaltHex Feb 10 at 5:35
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"It is forbidden to make such requests" is grammatically correct, for "I", see CobaltHex's comment. – AndyT Feb 10 at 15:46

As has been pointed out, I was forbidden to [do it] is perfectly "valid" English where the meaning can easily be established from any dictionary. But in the context of learning "normal" use of English, no-one has mentioned the critical issue of the "tense switch" involved in paraphrasing to I am not allowed to do it.

Google Books has just 3 instances of I was forbidden to tell you, and if you follow that link you'll see they all occur in contexts where the speaker is no longer thus constrained (he's either just told the other person whatever it was he couldn't say before, or he's just about to).

On the other hand there are an estimated 650 instances of I am forbidden to tell you. The reason for using present tense is that the whole point of making the statement is to say something about the current situation. Technically speaking, forbidden is a "past tense" form, but in practice it's just being used as a Participle Adjective, with no significant allusion to an "action" that happened in the past.


It might be useful to consider this "time-based" aspect of the usage in the context of an irate father whose teenage daughter just came home really late...

1: You are forbidden to stay out after midnight unless you ask permission!

Note that although both father and daughter probably know exactly what the above means in context, we can't tell from the actual words whether the father is (1) imposing a new constraint on his daughter, or (2) reminding her of an existing rule.

In principle he could have unambiguously forced the second meaning with You were forbidden..., but in practice this would be unlikely. You'd normally only explicitly locate the "act of forbidding" in the past in contexts where the consequences of that act also lie in the past (i.e. - there's something that was forbidden in the past, but isn't now).


EDIT: Comments to both the question and this answer suggest it's worth making a couple more points about verb forms here. First, this "usage note" from Collins...

Traditionally, it has been considered more correct to talk about forbidding someone to do something, rather than forbidding someone from doing something. Recently, however, the from option has become generally more acceptable, so that he was forbidden to come in and he was forbidden from coming in may both now be considered correct.

But note that the gerund usage is still far less common than the infinitive, and obviously that Collins usage note is only there because some people still need convincing that the gerund is "valid" at all.


Second, you can of course cast the main verb in the perfect (I have been forbidden to tell you, She had been forbidden from staying out late). I don't think there's usually any special reason to use this relatively uncommon form, but arguably it can emphasize the prior imposition of a restriction rather than the implied current status of being restricted.

Because of that "backshifting" of focus, one might reasonably argue a potential difference of nuance between, for example,...

2: Those who are forbidden to stay must leave now
3: Those who have been forbidden to stay must leave now

...where we can contrast scenario A (it was announced earlier that no-one under 18 can stay late) with scenario B (each person was interviewed earlier, and told whether they could stay or not). Although in both scenarios #2 above is actually more likely, #3 is less unlikely in scenario B.

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@Leos Literak: Hmm. Obviously I haven't explained things as well as I intended. If the prohibition is "still valid" you should almost always say I am forbidden, not I was forbidden. Normal English doesn't naturally support distinguishing between prohibitions that are currently being imposed and those which were imposed in the past (but still in force) when using forbidden as a "participle adjective". – FumbleFingers Feb 9 at 17:44
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@Rathony: I'm afraid I can't agree with you there. Arguably forbidden is slightly less common today than a century or two ago, but imho it's not even "dated", let alone "archaic". And as to whether comparing 3 hits to 650 in Google Books "shows a big difference" or not, all I can say is do the math (figuratively or arithmetically; the answer will be the same! :) – FumbleFingers Feb 9 at 18:04
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@Rathony: I intend no disrespect, but you must surely accept it's unlikely your position here will stand up against mine, given I'm a native speaker and you're not. Note that a "popular summary" of a legal position (in a newspaper article, or layman's guide, for example) might well include the words forbidden to [drive, or whatever], but "legal documents" (your driving license, the relevant Act of Parliament, etc.) normally wouldn't. It's just not "legalese". – FumbleFingers Feb 9 at 18:29
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@zwol: I can only repeat what I just commented to OP above. An authority would not normally say You were forbidden to do X if they caught you doing it. They'd nearly always say You are forbidden to do it unless there was some unusual contextual reason why they specifically wanted to make the "offender" think back to the specific point in past time where they were told what they weren't allowed to do. – FumbleFingers Feb 9 at 18:36
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@Adam: I think we're on the same page here. I must admit it's only just occurred to me OP might actually be asking whether forbidden can validly be used as an antonym of allowed. I just thought it was odd that both OP and all existing comments / answers transparently switched to present tense for the latter, bearing in mind that nobody would be likely to say I was not allowed to... in a context where it's currently relevant that the prohibition still applies. – FumbleFingers Feb 9 at 21:03

I could be that your sentence is perfectly fine. It depends on the context. A few examples of similar statements in context.:

I used to call her every night, asking her to go to dinner and talk things over, but then my ex-wife took out a restraining order and I was forbidden to make such requests.

The speaker is capable of making the request, and has the authority, but has been legally prohibited.


I used to work for a huge cosmetic surgery company. My friends used to ask me to search for names of celebrities in the company database, but I was not authorized to make such requests.

The system was set up so that this speaker could not even attempt to make the request. Unlike the first example, they can't make the request, even if they wanted to.


I used to be the pool guy for Frank Sinatra. My aunt was always giving me tchotchkes and I would have the Chairman sign them. She resold them at flea markets. I thought it was ok, but apparently Frank didn't like it and one day I was asked not to make such requests.

The speaker is legally allowed to make the request, and is capable of doing so, but is annoying someone who therefore asked him to stop. No force or legal compulsion, but probably a good idea if he wants to keep his job.

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I was forbidden to make such requests

is certainly English.

Perhaps you want to say

I'm not authorized to make such requests.

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"I was forbidden to make such requests. ". You would be more likely to hear "I am not allowed to make such requests". There is a difference in meaning. Let's say nobody in a company is allowed to make such requests. Nobody is specifically told, it's just a general rule. But there is Joe, who doesn't follow the rules. Until someone has enough of Joe and tells him that if he doesn't stop making such requests, his job is in danger.

In that situation, Joe might say "I was forbidden to make such requests". It is stronger than "I am not allowed", it also implies that Joe was specifically and personally told not to make such requests, and not just as part of a group.

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