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I have just come across something that I have never thought about before and it occurred to me that this site would be the place to ask.

The dictionary defines ALLOW as: VERB - let (someone) have or do something.

The dictionary defines LET as: VERB - not prevent or forbid; allow.

So the dictionary uses each word to define the other word. This suggests to me they are likely synonyms.

However if I have this sentence, "doing this allows you to jump higher" I cannot simply just change the word ALLOWS to LETS because the word TO makes the sentence sound wrong; "doing this lets you to jump higher".

Similarly, if I have the sentence "doing this lets you jump higher" and I change the word LETS to ALLOWS, it again sounds wrong; "doing this allows you jump higher".

So my question is, is there a simple reason why, while both words look to be interchangeable at a definition level, choosing either of the words also changes which other words you need in the sentence to make it complete or sound correctly structured?

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    That's because each verb has a set of certain patterns by which it connects its dependents, that's called government or rection. Two verbs can be synonyms but still have different rection, that's the case with allow and let. – Yellow Sky Jun 10 '20 at 14:55
  • That is good enough for me :D – Myles Dugenfelder Jun 10 '20 at 14:59
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    So the dictionary uses each word to define the other word. This suggests to me they are likely synonyms. This is an error. There is a common misconception that English has a lot of synonyms. It does not. It has very, very few synonyms. The guidance is that some words have an overlap in meaning in some restricted contexts but all differing words retain their nuances. "Let" implies (i) "to raise no objection to something" - "He let me drive the car." (ii) the subjunctive imperative - "Let there be light!" ; "Allow" implies "the granting of permission" "He allowed me to drive the car." – Greybeard Jun 10 '20 at 15:36
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    (1) 'Synonym' means 'one of in the first instance a pair of words that may in some instances be interchanged with no or negligible change in meaning'. // (2) The dictionary definitions are misleading; they attempt to explain similarity of meaning but do not clearly address the different distributions of the words. This is why example sentences are needful. @Yellow sky is more precise here. 'The new laws allowed them to meet in groups of up to 8' = 'The new laws let them meet in groups of up to 8'. / And note that 'more choices allow more faults' is not easily paraphrasable using 'let'. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 10 '20 at 15:47
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    Maybe it would help to see that let is very close to allow to, not allow alone: Let me say, Allow me to say. – Yosef Baskin Jun 10 '20 at 16:26
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Just because two words have similar meanings does not mean they are interchangeable—almost no two words are truly interchangeable, on several levels. Particularly here, two words being similar in meaning does not mean their grammar needs to be similar, either. Every verb has its own conventions as to which complements are accepted or not.

When using a verb form to indicate an activity which is being made possible, allow takes a to-infinitive as an object complement or a gerund as a direct object, e.g.

This allows you to jump

This allows jumping

This is also the case with authorize, license, enable, approve, release, sanction, okay, suffer, bless, warrant, and green-light among some other verbs of permission, approval, or empowerment.

Let only accepts a bare infinitive as an object complement for the same, and is the only common verb of permission, approval, etc. I can think of which does.

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  • "Let only accepts a bare infinitive as an object complement for the same, and is the only common verb I can think of which does." "This lets you jump" "I saw you jump" "I heard you speak" -- the same syntax, no? – Rosie F Jun 10 '20 at 15:15
  • @RosieF How are see and hear verbs of permission? – choster Jun 10 '20 at 15:16
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    Ah... in that case I've misunderstood you. I was going by your words "Let ... is the only common verb I can think of which does" which doesn't contain the word "permission". I now see that your previous para mentions "verbs of permission, approval, or empowerment." – Rosie F Jun 10 '20 at 15:20
  • Ah, you're right, I should be more clear. I hope the edit is an improvement. – choster Jun 10 '20 at 18:00

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