They can't be allowed to lose hope. Many of them are lining up to catch a boat or a plane to parts of their island country that are still intact.

What does allow mean in this context? Here they refers to the people who survived an earthquake and are waiting for rescue.

To me, it seems that whether they would lose hope or not is not something that can be allowed. They have there free will to lose hope. My interpretation of this sentence is that they should not be further disappointed and then lose hope. Is my understanding correct? And further, in what other context can I use this word or phrase, if any, in a similar way? Just a few explanations or examples would be helpful for me to understand it and may be able to use it.

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  • 2
    It has its typical meaning. Whether or not we agree with the sentiment is a separate issue, but he's saying what you originally interpreted him to be saying: we (the audience) cannot allow them (the survivors) to lose hope. Maybe we have to rally together and help them rebuild houses, or donte funds, or whatever, but he's saying it's the audiences duty to prevent the survivors from losing hope. For other usages, any good dictionary (try several!) will list example sentences. You can find a long list of free, online dictionaries at onelook.com . – Dan Bron Oct 8 '18 at 16:19

This isn't an infringement upon anyone's free will.

They can't be allowed to lose hope is an expression that means:

We will not let them lose hope. We will not allow them to lose hope. We will do everything in our power to make sure they will not lose hope.

It's like Jane not allowing her sister Joan to ruin her (Joan's) life by dating a swindler.

  • 1
    I'm not sure I completely agree with the statement that it has nothing to do with infringing on free will. In common usage (and as an idiomatic expression), I agree: "We must do everything we can to give them hope." But if I interpret it in a literal sense, I could say that it means: "I'm sorry. We can't permit you to lose hope—even if that's what you want to do." – Jason Bassford Oct 8 '18 at 20:27
  • @JasonBassford: I disagree. When a goalie keeps a forward from scoring a goal, is he infringing on the forward's free will? When you want to spend the weekend in Rome but have no money, is the world's financial system keeping you from exercising your free will? Sheesh ... – Ricky Oct 8 '18 at 20:30
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    If I strap you down to a table, I am preventing you from taking any action. Being strapped down to a table goes against your free will and is certainly an infringement of it. A forward in hockey has agreed to have their goals prevented by a goalie, if they can do so. The person strapped to the table has (most likely) not agreed to anything. If somebody wants to lose hope, but you are actively preventing it, then you are infringing on their free will. (Just as an intervention in the case of an alcoholic infringes on their desire to keep drinking.) – Jason Bassford Oct 8 '18 at 20:38
  • @JasonBassford: Yes, but I'm pretty sure there's a gray area somewhere in there. Not allowing, in the OP's example, does not imply actually ... uh ... forbidding ... some degree of willingness on the part of those in danger of losing hope is implied. Call it poetic exaggeration, quite appropriate where pep talk is concerned. Not entirely in keeping with the Christian outlook that writes off (or is expected to, anyway) any embellishment as hypocrisy, but ... uh ... close enough, I would think. – Ricky Oct 8 '18 at 20:42
  • @JasonBassford I agree with both your argument and Ricky's. But I think the more important thing here are: i) How to interpret "allow" in this context? ii) Is this kind of usage common in English (that's why I asked for some additional examples.)? If this is only this certain author's way to say it, then I'm fine with it. I don't think I'll learn from his usage unless my English is good enough. But if this is indeed a common, or just correct usage in English, I'll try to learn and use it. And I'm sure this would also be helpful to others who concerns more flexible usage of English. – zijuexiansheng Oct 9 '18 at 13:38

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