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What’s the difference between ‘allow’ and ‘allow for’?

...or should it be "[subject] allows [object] to [verb]"?

I am asking specifically for sentences in the form "allows for X to Y". Does it make any difference or is that basically equivalent to "allows for X Ying"?

The original sentence that got me thinking about this was from a documentation manual of a programming language: "This allows for named functions to be used before they are defined." I feel like "for" shouldn't be used in that sentence. Is my intuition correct?

marked as duplicate by StoneyB, FumbleFingers, tchrist, MetaEd, Robusto Oct 31 '12 at 12:14

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

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  • Thanks for the pointer. I'm not sure it can be considered a duplicate: my question is specifically about whether "allow for" followed by an compound object that includes a verb is grammatically correct. I will edit the question details to make this clear. – waldyrious Oct 30 '12 at 21:40
  • My guess is that both are used, depending on the context. Nevertheless, while you're updating your question, I'd recommend putting in a few concrete examples; something like "The law allows (for) convicts to appeal," or, "The orchard allows vagrants to pick up windfalls." Sometimes, scant details lead to vague questions and erroneous assumptions. More specific information would allow the community to give more accurate and precise answers. – J.R. Oct 30 '12 at 22:01
  • After reading your edited question (with the example), I'd recommend using enables or permits in place of allows for; that way, the quandary essentially goes away (and the sentence might be considered improved, too). – J.R. Oct 30 '12 at 22:09
  • Or one might rewrite that sentence as "This allows for named functions' being used before they are defined," and completely change what might be assumed to be the meaning. The sentence needs to be changed; more context is required to see what needs changing. – Andrew Leach Oct 30 '12 at 22:17

The two constructs are not interchangeable in all circumstances. YOu may need to distinguish between "admits the possibility of" (allows for) and "permits" (allows).

In the specific case you cite (a programming language) the "allows for" variant carries the message that the user could adopt the practice but it is not advocated as best practice.


The manual is correct.

"This allows for named functions to be used before they are defined."

The construct with for is used to convey a particular meaning. Considering that the sentence begins with a reference (This) to something stated earlier, we must understand that this is a device to achieve something that was not existing/ possible.

Say, by default, named functions are not amenable for use until they are defined. By doing something, we may change this situation. That something will now provide a means or mechanism for using named functions before defining them.

Without the for, this meaning cannot be brought in effectively.

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