I spotted that when a war is described in English, the side described as "allies" is nearly always reserved to the side to which the speaker has sympathy. Although technically the word means somebody in alliance, I virtually never seen the word applied to a supposedly bad side even if that side has an alliance of their own.

It seems this sometimes can be used to point a "good" side in a conflict when commenting the news (even if no Western power is directly involved).

I also noticed that regarding WWII some commenters often say "the Allies and the Soviets" or "the Allies decided to make offensive after that of the Soviets" even though technically the USSR was allied with say Britain and the USA. Instances where the Soviets are grouped into "Allies" are rare especially after the fall of the USSR. Does this usage indicate the commenter's anti-Soviet or anti-Communist inclination?

I also once spotted the usage of the word in regards of the Crimean war between Great Britain and the Russian Empire in the 19th century where British allies (i.e. Turks) were called "the allies". Does such usage also indicate that the author is sympathetic to the British and Turkish side?

Another explanation may be that the word can be simply used to refer any side that is allied with the country from which the speaker originates (i.e. UK and/or the USA in most cases for an English speaker) and as such the speaker is most likely support that side and expresses sympathy to it.

  • 2
    Doesn't this all depend on context of the speaker? Who is 'us' and who is 'them'? 'The allies' refers to our allies, unless of course we have none and our enemies do. Also, the Soviet Union was never considered an ally of NATO countries in the post-WWII time, but certainly was -during- WWII. So it depends on when it was used. Also, maybe you have low self-esteem, so that even if you have allies, you know deep in your heart that you and your allies are not really good.
    – Mitch
    Commented Aug 17, 2011 at 19:32
  • 1
    During WWII the allies were formally know as the United Nations, or the anti-axis forces. See for example this newspaper from the New York Times in 1943: nytimes.com/learning/general/onthisday/big/0114.html#article
    – user12087
    Commented Aug 17, 2011 at 22:49
  • 1
    We learned at school that the difference between freedom fighter and terrorist is that you don't consider a terrorist's cause to be legitimate. What's the difference between a Ministry of Defence and a Ministry of War? It's all bombs, guns and tanks whatever you call it. Commented Dec 15, 2012 at 19:14
  • depends on if you're the pigeon or the statue.
    – MDMoore313
    Commented Feb 12, 2014 at 21:29

4 Answers 4


Are allies always good guys? In theory, no. In practice, probably yes.

Most of the major wars (World War I, World II and others), involved LARGE groups of "allies" against a few countries that were also "allied." But the latter were widely perceived as the aggressors against the rest of the world, so few people outside these countries had much sympathy for them.

In practice, the large groups of countries tended to win most of these wars, and called each other "allies." Although they were technically "allies," the smaller groups of countries (e.g. Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey in World War I, and Germany, Italy and Japan in World War II) were instead regarded as "partners in crime" by most others.

It's largely a judgment passed by the international community, which is why the "allies" are usually considered good guys.

  • 4
    This is a stretch. There is a difference between capital-A "Allies" when speaking of the World Wars and the word allies. I would not hesitate to use the word allies when speaking of people who are in an alliance with each other, even if they are perceived as aggressors or somehow "evil". Many other people in the media don't either.
    – ghoppe
    Commented Aug 18, 2011 at 14:24

Since the USSR was part of the Allied States after June 1941, it's reasonable to say there is some bias involved if they weren't included as part of the Allied Powers in a discussion of WWII. However, the Soviets did invade Poland and Finland before joining the Allies, so technically there may be WWII descriptions which correctly make distinctions between actions of the Allies and Soviets.

The Allies of WWII were countries that opposed the Axis Powers.

Using the lower-case allies when describing alliances between nations makes no distinction does not, in my opinion, indicate any bias on the part of the speaker. For example, you could speak interchangeably between the USSR and her allies and the USA and her allies during the Cold War without showing bias either way.

So the answer to the question Are allies always good guys? is no.

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    Note that the Axis powers in WWII and the "central powers" (Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottomans) in WWI considered themselves part of an alliance too. They just lost, so they didn't get to write the history books.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Aug 17, 2011 at 19:14
  • What about "the allies"?
    – Anixx
    Commented Aug 17, 2011 at 19:15
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    Consider there is a civil war in Africa or in Asia between a government and rebels. Case (a): The reporter on the TV says "the coalition" or "the allies" about the government side and "terrorists" (or other "-ists") about the rebel side. Case (b): The reporter calls the rebel side "the allies", "the alliance" or "the coalition" while calls the govenrnment "the regime". Is there a difference?
    – Anixx
    Commented Aug 17, 2011 at 19:23
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    @Anixx Can you provide examples of such quotations? Otherwise it seems like you are contriving to prove a point rather than invite an open discussion.
    – z7sg Ѫ
    Commented Aug 18, 2011 at 10:51
  • @z7sg Ѫ It's now apparent you were correct. :)
    – ghoppe
    Commented Aug 18, 2011 at 14:32

In World War II, the two sides are referred to in English as the Allied Powers (US, Britain, etc.) and the Axis Powers (Germany, Japan, etc.), often shortened to the Allies and the Axis.

A British speaker during World War II could correctly have referred to "Germany's allies". It's just that when speaking of allies without further restriction, the assumption is that you're referring to your own allies.

It would be odd to fail to include the USSR in the grouping of "the Allies" in the context of World War II. I'd like to see the context on that in order to answer it better.

  • And what if in an academic work about say Crimean war the researcher calls one side "the allies"? How can he now be allied with Ottoman Empire?
    – Anixx
    Commented Aug 17, 2011 at 18:57
  • @Anixx He isn't. The Crimean War was fought between the Russian Empire and an Alliance of four other nation states. So there is no ambiguity — Russia had no allies in the conflict.
    – ghoppe
    Commented Aug 17, 2011 at 19:03
  • @Anixx: In the case of the Crimean War, one side consisted of Britain, France, and the Ottoman Empire, whereas the other side was just Russia. I suppose a case can be made for calling the one side "the allies" since the other side was not allied with anyone.
    – wfaulk
    Commented Aug 17, 2011 at 19:03
  • @wfaulk don't forget the Kingdom of Sardinia… ;)
    – ghoppe
    Commented Aug 17, 2011 at 19:05
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    @ghoppe: "You forgot Poland!" ;)
    – wfaulk
    Commented Aug 17, 2011 at 19:07

Anixx, i believe your last point was the most accurate:

Another explanation may be that the word can be simply used to refer any side that is allied with the country from which the speaker originates (i.e. UK and/or the USA in most cases for an English speaker) and as such the speaker is most likely support that side and expresses sympathy to it.

Using the example of World War II, the two factions were split into the "Allied Powers" and the "Axis Powers".

While most look at it in a historical context of the allies being the "good guys" and the axis being the "bad guys", the problem lies in the name chosen to label the "good guys".

As we know, "allies" is the plural of "ally". As a verb in this context, it means to "Side with or support (someone or something)." As a noun, the meaning is similar: "A group of nations taking military action together, in particular the countries that fought with the US in World War I and World War II."

Without question those countries who formed the "Axis powers" were all allies themselves.

So no, allies are not always good guys. As you said, denoting "good" or "evil" is primarily discerned from someone's point of view.

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