Please, clarify me the difference between the verbs to allow and to enable. What are the peculiarities in their meanings especially in formal and technical context? As example, I have such context

Thereby it will enable/allow to change the date of planned work in case of serious complaints from other teams related to business necessity.

But I would appreciate more broad explanation of meaning distinctions, beyond the context I've given. Thank you for assistance!

3 Answers 3


Semantically, permit would convey exactly the same meaning as allow / enable here, but personally I don't like this "intransitive" usage (where it's unspecified who is enabled / allowed / permitted to do something). It's a relatively recent usage, as show by this NGram...

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As pointed out above, I see no possibility of any of those three verbs conveying any different meaning. Idiomatically, allow is probably more common in such contexts, but that doesn't mean the alternatives are in any sense "incorrect" - providing it's used transitively (with an "object" such as us, you, one,...

But whereas the "intransitive" version with allow merely "grates" on my ear, I'd be more inclined to say that such usages really are "syntactically invalid" with enable / permit. So if you insist on not specifying who is allowed/permitted/enabled to do something, you should probably stick with allow (but I at least will always tend to assume "non-native speaker" when I see/hear that usage).

Offhand I can't think of many contexts where there's any significant difference in meaning between to allow / permit / enable [someone to do something], but perhaps one might argue that being enabled more strongly implies having an (internally-based) ability/capacity to do something, whereas being allowed / permitted more strongly alludes to not being prevented from doing something by (externally-based) constraints. Thus one might favour...

His well-developed muscles enabled him to lift very heavy dumbbell weights
His well-developed muscles allowed him to lift very heavy dumbbell weights

...but in practice I don't think many people would make that distinction. On the other hand, only allow / permit can really be used where the intended sense is very clearly that of being given permission / having (existing, rule-based) constraints lifted, as in...

The teacher allowed the children to leave school early on the last day of term
(Where permitted would also work, but enabled normally1 wouldn't.)

1 As an example of an "unusual" context where enabled could work for that last example...

The teacher enabled the children to leave school early on the last day of term by arranging for the school bus to leave at 3 o'clock instead of its normal 4 o'clock departure time.


The usual distinction between allow and enable is that allow means "to not prohibit something, to let it happen, to remove any constraint that would prevent something from happening" and enable means "to make something possible".

When describing a feature of some tool, allow is often used to mean "make something possible because it is now much easier to do, thanks to this feature", its prior difficulty having been a constraint that made it not really possible to do, at least not without an unlikely amount of effort being devoted to the task.


If you allow X, you are A) not preventing X from happening and/or B) typically implying you approve it. But you are not doing anything.

If you enable X, you are actively doing something so that X can happen.

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