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

From: David Reitter
Subject: Re: NEWS.22: `allows' without an object
Date: Tue, 29 May 2007 10:51:39 +0100

On 29 May 2007, at 09:48, Stefan Monnier wrote:
I think "allows reading mail" is also okay, and doesn't require "you".

That's indeed what I was told, and that's a source of the confusion (for me at least): in most contexts, "blabla to read mail" and "blabla reading mail" translate into the exact same thing in French, so I tend to not know when to
use which.
In the specific case of "allow" and "enable", I know I'm not alone ;-)

"Reading" is used as a noun here, and "allow + noun" is an English construction. Additionally, English allows for the omission of the agent of nouns that have been converted from verbs (read -> reading): "Reading was popular in the 50's" is okay, even though it is not specified who is reading. (The genitive takes the place of the subject, otherwise: "Peter's writing was awful.")

"Allow" is a control verb, where the entity that experiences the "allowing" is realized as an object, but is also the subject of the complement clause: "A allows B to do X" means "A permits that B do X".

A complement with "to" always means that a clause follows, and this calls for a subject in English. With a control verb like "allow", you should therefore always use the extra object: "The rain allows John to go back to bed."

In the general case, I find the verbal style better than the noun style, but native speakers may have a different view.

David Reitter
ICCS/HCRC, Informatics, University of Edinburgh

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