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Re: NEWS.22: `allows' without an object

From: Alan Mackenzie
Subject: Re: NEWS.22: `allows' without an object
Date: 29 May 2007 10:20:30 +0200
Date: Tue, 29 May 2007 10:44:36 +0100
User-agent: Mutt/1.5.9i

Hi, Robert!

On Mon, May 28, 2007 at 05:17:10PM -0400, Robert J. Chassell wrote:
> In English, as heard by a native,

>     *** New user option `help-at-pt-display-when-idle' allows to

> in emacs/etc/NEWS.22 sounds wrong.  It would sound better if it were

>     *** New user option `help-at-pt-display-when-idle' allows you to
>                                                               ^^^

This is a very common solecism in all technical English written by
"foreigners";  though I thoroughly respect, even admire, their mastery of
such a bastard capricious language as English.

I think it would be useful to emphasise the principle: "allow" needs a
DIRECT OBJECT.  This d.o. can either be:

(i) the person or thing being empowered:

  "auto-revert allows YOU to 'tail' a file";
  "auto-revert allows EMACS to tail a file";
(ii) The object of the allowed action:

  "auto-revert allows A FILE to be tailed".
  (this is really the same as (i), but with a passive verb);
(iii) the process being allowed - this is often a gerund[*], but need
not be:

  "auto-revert allows THE TAILING of a file";
  "The law courts allow THE FILING of a tale";

[*] "gerund", a grammatical term, means the noun form of a verb: "the
allowing".  It has the same form as the present participle, but is
distinct from it.  Other languages just use an infinitive here - e.g. in
German, "das Erlauben".

The same (or very similar) constructs are used by many other English
words: "enable", "permit", "encourage", "force", "help", "suggest", ....

Also to be noted: negative words like this ("prevent", "discourage",
...) tend to use "from" rather than "to":

  "Write protection prevents you FROM altering a file."
  "Write protection prevents a file FROM being altered."
  "Write protection prevents the alteration of a file."

Like all grammatical rules in English, this one has exceptions.  We
English speakers have got to keep presumptious foreigners in their place
somehow.  ;-)

Alan Mackenzie (Ittersbach, Germany).

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