If a company discourages its employees from revealing details of their jobs to their family, can we infer that the company forbids its employees to do so in the strict sense of the word?

I'd appreciate your help.

  • 1
    It depends on how they discourage it. If they fire you if you do it, it would be the same as forbididng it. But strictly speaking, discouraging something is not the same as forbidding it. For example, in many countries aclohol consumption is discouraged by telling people about the dangers, and yet it is not forbidden - it is legal to buy and consume it.
    – oerkelens
    Dec 1 '17 at 11:28
  • 2
    Please show how several reputable dictionary definitions of these words have left you in doubt. Dec 1 '17 at 12:45
  • I am thinking about cases of overlap, especially when the sentence " The company discourages its employees from revealing details of their jobs to their family" appears in a reading comprehension test. Is it unwarranted to infer that the company does not allow such behavior?
    – Apollyon
    Dec 1 '17 at 13:16

The word forbid simply means you are not allowed to do something. If you do something that is forbidden, you are breaking laws or rules.

The word discourage is not as strong. You might be discouraged from doing something even if it's not illegal or forbidden.

For example, I can say that eating too much junk food is discouraged. You won't be arrested for eating too many sweets, but you do run a higher risk of adverse health effects – like obesity or diabetes.

Also, smoking may be forbidden on an airplane, but smoking might be discouraged in your own private automobile – especially if you are talking with your family doctor.

Put another way, we are discouraged from doing things we shouldn't do, but we are forbidden from doing thing that we are not permitted to do.

If I was reading a company handbook, and saw:

Our company discourages its employees from revealing details of their jobs to their family.

then I would assume that the company would rather me not talk about my job with my family, but that I probably wouldn't be fired for doing so. On the other hand, if the handbook said:

Our company forbids its employees from revealing details of their jobs to their family.

then I would assume that revealing such details would be breaking company policy, and that the company would be justified in firing me if they found out I had done so.


The difference is while the word forbid implies that measures will be taken to prevent an action, the word discourage implies that measures will be taken after the fact.

In other words, there will be possible reprimands after an employee reveals details of his or her job to his or her family if the word discouraged is used and actual preventative measures if the word forbid is used (and the possibility of reprimands afterwards is not necessarily excluded).

Discourage is also a little nicer, because the reprimand is only implied. If the word punish is used, then the reprimand is a certainty and therefore a little more forceful.

  • Counterexample to the "preventative measures" distinction: theft is forbidden by law, which means that you'll be prosecuted if you commit it. It might also be discouraged by preventative measures such as security cameras and guards.
    – jsheeran
    Dec 1 '17 at 11:50
  • I disagree. It is discouraged to do something that may jeopardise the company, but if the company does not forbid it, then the employee can use their own discretion whether or not to tell their spouse about something. You are discouraged to use facebook during your work - if it is excessive, other measures can be taken
    – mplungjan
    Dec 1 '17 at 11:50
  • @mplungjan If a company does not actively attempt to keep you from doing so, that does not mean that the company allows the employee to use their own discretion.
    – Neil
    Dec 1 '17 at 11:51
  • @jsheeran Is theft not also actively prevented as well? Again as I mentioned in my answer, the possibility of reprimands afterwards is not necessarily excluded when the word "forbid" is used. Also security cameras and guards aren't preventative measures as it doesn't prevent anything.
    – Neil
    Dec 1 '17 at 11:54
  • @Neil if they don't, then they forbid you, not discourage you.
    – mplungjan
    Dec 1 '17 at 13:02

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