English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Searching on the Internet one can find plenty of sentences where "allocate [something] among [someone]" appears, for instance (Google Books):

  • The Congress amended the law to require OPOs "to allocate donated organs equitably among transplant patients according to established medical criteria."

  • It becomes effective if and when norms and categories for the distribution of insufficient capacities have to be established in order to allocate scarce resources among several needy persons through competition.

But, if one tries finding a fragment like "allocate [someone] among [something]" the search results begin more scattered, almost like it is not proper or idiomatic English to use "allocate" that way. An example of this kind is (Google Books):

  • If the solution to a problem can only be expressed in whole numbers, as would be the case if the problem involved how to allocate people among various tasks or departments, then linear programming models can't be used.

So, is it proper English to say "allocate [someone] among [something]"?

share|improve this question
I don't think one would use among. But "allocate people to houses" would work: you are sending individuals in different directions (which is why to is appropriate). – Andrew Leach Jul 23 '13 at 22:38
@Andrew, how about "You can also choose how to allocate the new citizens among the five racial categories," which I found on The New York Times as a rare example of this usage? – user19148 Jul 23 '13 at 22:48
But, @Andrew, after some thoughts, it arose a doubt to me, differently from "to", don't "among" in your example give a better sense of "division". I.e., a person is placed in a house, three persons are placed in another house, and so on? So the persons involved are separated, read divided, in a certain number of houses, no? – user19148 Jul 23 '13 at 23:18
Personally, I think it's a rather clunky way of saying what would perhaps be better expressed using pigeonhole, categorise, or assign, etc., depending on the exact sense and nuance intended. – FumbleFingers Jul 24 '13 at 1:46
@AndrewLeach In theory, could a homeless person be "allocated" to a home OR "among" several different homes? I think that's what Carlo's asking. – Mari-Lou A Jul 24 '13 at 11:13

It makes little sense to allocate a singular person ("We allocated Ted among the houses on the block"), as you'd be separating Ted into parts and putting each part in a house. However it does make sense to say "We allocated all the people among the houses on the block". As Andrew said, the usage of the word "among" is awkward, but it's still correct.

share|improve this answer
So, you are saying that "among" used there is correct but is not idiomatic English? Or, maybe, is that "not idiomatic" and "awkward" mean different things? – user19148 Jul 23 '13 at 23:07
"not idiomatic" and "awkward" certainly have different meanings. – TrevorD Jul 24 '13 at 0:08
@Carlo: A person can certainly be allocated something (he gets the thing), or allocated to something (he becomes "subservient" to the thing). You could perhaps allocate a camp-follower prostitute among a company of soldiers (some or all of those soldiers might get some action). But generally speaking, people aren't divided up into bits and allocated/shared around among anything. – FumbleFingers Jul 24 '13 at 1:36
@Carlo_R. In my opinion, it's both; however, people's opinions of what is awkward may vary. – Mendicant Bias Jul 24 '13 at 2:38

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.