What does the word "afford" mean in this passage from an online article? I'd appreciate some synonym as well.

Email Limits What You Can Do

You do things with people. How you talk is what you do.

There is a theme amongst the best software thinkers I know, and it goes like this: Architecture is everything. I don’t mean how the code is structured. The architecture of how the software fits, limits, and affords the human mind.

I tend to think that the 3d definition of "afford" from the online Merriam Webster dictionary is closer, but still not very accurate:

to be able to pay for (something)

to be able to do (something) without having problems or being seriously harmed

to supply or provide (something needed or wanted) to someone


While "afford" is usually used with regards to having enough money or other resources to spend on a certain thing, it can also be used to indicate that an object embodies a certain possible use. Typically the word used is "affordance", but the verb afford is sometimes used as well. See the Wikipedia article on affordance for some examples:

For example, a knob affords twisting, and perhaps pushing, while a cord affords pulling.

A possible synonym might be "lend itself to"; a knob lends itself to twisting. I'm not sure if this is the meaning intended in the example text, but it could make sense:

The architecture of how the software fits, limits, and lends itself to the human mind.



to give or confer upon:

to afford great pleasure to someone.

Look it up here if you like.

That said, the usage is pretty disgusting, not altogether correct, and should be avoided. It is similar to the French fournir and Russian доставлять, and neither should be used that way either.


The author is imitating the writing of others where they have used the word in the sense:

to supply or provide (something needed or wanted) to someone

This is the original meaning of the word. The modern sense of "to be able to pay" comes from expressions such as "I cannot afford that." which means "I am not in a position to supply what is needed or wanted."

It is always important to say what is (or cannot be) afforded. For example, we might say:

The Smithsonian affords the visitor endless opportunities for learning.


The new quarters afford our business room for growth.

The author of this essay has clearly seen the word "afford" used this way but has only a hazy idea of its meaning. He uses it again in the next paragraph:

The networks we use to communicate afford what we communicate.

He seems to understand that "affording" affects what someone or something can do, but does not understand that this is accomplished by providing resources. He is using the word in a sense which is probably known only to himself.

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