Allow vs. Enable

One of my pet peeves is programmers who use the word "allow" when describing their software.  For example, "Product X allows users to create snazzy documents."  I don’t like hearing "allow" because it sounds as though the developer sees themselves in a position of authority, and they’re giving the customer permission to do something (perhaps because they’ve been such a good little user).

I prefer the word "enable."  Yeah, I know – "enable" and "allow" are synonyms, but my brain is wired to interpret them differently.  To me, software which enables customers to do something leaves them in charge, whereas software which allows assumes that the developer is in charge.

It’s a minor semantic quibble, of course, and there are far more important things to be bothered about.  But if I don’t bitch about it here in my blog, then I’ll be forced to bitch about it on Twitter, and Nick Harris does enough of that for the both of us :)

8 thoughts on “Allow vs. Enable

  1. I agree completely. I write the help file and release notes for the company I work for and I am constantly stopping myself from writing “allows” and changing it to “enables” and it bothers me mightily when I see others make that mistake.

  2. I think allow is more realistic. How often do you really find software enabling? Yeah, usually it allows you to do what you want, with a whole bunch of difficult workflow.
    The claim of enabling is implicitly stating your product is user friendly, it helps the user get what they want done without raising their anxiety level or blood pressure.
    Sure, a popular word processor allows you to have consistent formatting within a document, but good getting it working when you past some text off the internet. Having that work would be enabling.

  3. Totally agree.
    Depending on the context, “facilitate” could also be a good alternative…

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