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In which way can the verb 'allow' be used? There is always some confusion and apparently it's often intuitively used wrongly. Which form corresponds to correct English, eventually depending on context (see below)?

1: allow + to + infinitive: It allows to do something.

2: allow + verb+ -ing: It allows doing something.

3: allow + pronoun + to + infinitive: It allows me to do something.

4: allow + pronoun + verb+ -ing: It allows me doing something.

5: allow + noun: It allows something,

6: allow + noun + verb: It allows something to be done.

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  • X is allowed to do something
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 9 at 15:13

5 Answers 5

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This question has previously been asked and answered on ELU. To summarise, there are three different syntactic constructions for the verb allow...

1: With a gerund complement indicating what is allowed:
Mama don't allow no drumming (non-standard English for Mama doesn't allow [any] drumming)
Nor does she allow smoking reefers (perfectly valid example of a gerund complement)

This construction does not normally accept a patient/object (the person/thing being allowed to do something). You sometimes see things like "She doesn't allow JJ Cale smoking reefers", but most native speakers do not like that much (it should be "She does not allow JJ Cale to smoke reefers", per #3 below).


2: With a noun phrase object indicating what is allowed:
Some states do not allow abortion
This school allows the use of computers during exams


3: With a noun phrase patient/object and an infinitive complement (what they're being allowed to do):
He won't allow me to leave
Some states allow automatic weapons to be kept at home

It is worth noting that last example, showing that the "patient" direct object (who/what is being allowed to do something) doesn't need to be a person (in this case, it's automatic weapons).

It's also worth noting that you may see things like "The iPad allows to surf the Internet on the move", with no "patient" object. These are not considered grammatical (they're usually from non-native speakers).


(In case it is not obvious from the above, OP's #1 is ungrammatical. All the others are fine.)

I cannot find any specific questions about the closely-related verb let on either ELL or ELU, but I'll just make one final point here. Be aware that syntactically, let doesn't work exactly the same as allow.

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  • 2
    This is an excellent answer; +1. You might consider that the double negative in your first example might muddy your point if learners have difficulty parsing it as well. But anyway, great answer! :)
    – WendiKidd
    Commented Oct 10, 2013 at 22:53
  • @WendiKidd: I just couldn't resist JJ's lyrics on this one, given that almost every line is about what Mama don't allow! But your point is well made - I'll add a disclaimer/clarification. Commented Oct 10, 2013 at 22:57
  • 2
    Why is OP's #3 ungrammatical? The reference given in the first line lists the construction allow [noun phrase] [infinite phrase] as one of the valid use cases. Is 3: allow + pronoun + to + infinitive: It allows me to do something any different?
    – gernot
    Commented Dec 25, 2019 at 14:27
  • @gernotsaysReinstateMonica: Not sure what happened there (maybe I got confused by various edits to OP's question text). Yes - OP's example #3 is my "valid construction" definition #3 (because it includes me as a noun phrase patient/object before the infinitive complement). Thanks for pointing it out - I've edited that bit out of my answer text. Commented Dec 25, 2019 at 14:55
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Native English speaker answer. I have been a University lecturer (in Science, not in English, but with many non-English undergraduate and postgraduate students). A really common mistake that non-native speakers make is the original poster's Case 1.

Sentences of the form "It allows to do something" should not be used. Here's a typical sample that I found in a recent written experimental report from a student who, nevertheless, had excellent oral communication skills in English:

"As this system only allows to image samples with length and diameter smaller than 2.5cm, due to its reduced field-of-view, a new system was required."

This needs to be rephrased as either:

"As this system only allows me/one to image samples smaller than 2.5 cm..." (Case 3 above)

OR

"As this system only allows imaging of samples smaller than 2.5 cm ..." (Case 5)

OR

"As this system only allows samples smaller than 2.5 cm to be imaged ..." (Case 6)

(BTW For the purists out there, all these sentences contain another, more subtle, error. Here what is allowed is the imaging only of samples smaller than 2.5 cm. It's not the case that the system "only allows". It might also do other things as well as "allow". E.g. "The system both allows and encourages the imaging of such objects." Thus, the "only" is technically in the wrong place in the original sentence. However, this imprecision has become so ingrained in native speech that it is now accepted usage.)

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I believe that numbers 3, 5 and 6 are correct.

3: allow + pronoun + to + infinitive: It allows me to do something. For example we can say: 'I like music. It allows me to relax'

5: allow + noun: It allows something. We can say: 'I like music. It allows relaxation'

6: allow + noun + verb: It allows something to be done. And here: 'When we get paid, it allows the shopping to be done'

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Both the grammar and semantics of these constructions can be confusing:

1: allow + to + infinitive: It allows to do something.

This isn't grammatically correct since it is missing a noun phrase before the infinitive phrase.

2: allow + verb+ -ing: It allows doing something.

This is grammatically correct, but semantically it is more appropriate to use it to mean that something isn't prohibited, e.g. City of Victoria allows camping in parks. And, it is more appropriate to use allow something to be done (i.e. passive voice) to mean that something is provided as a capability, e.g. ...allows all records to be sorted. Because even though the entity that is allowed to do something (i.e. an object pronoun) isn't included in the sentence, the thing that is allowed is still to be done by an entity.

3: allow + pronoun + to + infinitive: It allows me to do something.

This is grammatically correct, and probably the most commonly used form.

4: allow + pronoun + verb+ -ing: It allows me doing something.

This is grammatically correct, and equivalent to the second case, although the entity that is allowed to do something is explicitly stated with an object pronoun, which is "me". Therefore, it is more appropriate to use it to mean that something isn't prohibited rather than something is provided as a capability.

5: allow + noun: It allows something,

This is grammatically correct, and can be seen as a generic form of the second case, where the object can be other noun phrases than gerunds.

6: allow + noun + verb: It allows something to be done.

This is grammatically correct, and is usually more appropriate than the second form when it is used to mean something is provided as a capability.

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The correct one is : It allows me to do something.

For details, you can refer http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/allow

Regarding the use of allow, you can refer this link :

http://www.verb2verbe.com/conjugation/english-verb/allow.aspx

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  • and all other are wrong i.e. in no context the others can be right? Commented Oct 10, 2013 at 15:10
  • Whenever answering, you should provide enough references/explanation in support of your answer.
    – Mistu4u
    Commented Oct 10, 2013 at 15:11
  • @ Mistu4u : but the OP has just asked what is the correct one?
    – Sweet72
    Commented Oct 10, 2013 at 15:14
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    I think I have to downvote this. Not because of the point made by @Mistu4u (which I agree with, but it's not enough to justify a downvote). As I see it, the real problem is OP has posted six possibilities, of which four are perfectly valid. But this answer gives the impression only one is valid. Commented Oct 10, 2013 at 21:30

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