November 29, 2012

Weekly Language Usage Tips: converse or conversate & allow to or allow for

Posted in allow/allow for, converse/conversate at 6:47 am by dlseltzer

NOTE for those who receive this column by email: I have had a bit of a disaster here (I owe it all to Microsoft Outlook and its ‘known’—but not to me—problem) with my email distribution lists, and I have lost them all (and thousands of emails I was saving, to boot). I have been trying to recreate them, but the going is hard. If you are getting multiple versions of the same emails from me, or if you know of someone who should be getting emails but is not, or if you would like to be taken off this list for that matter, could you let me know? I am trying to put this together again as quickly as I can. Thanks for your help. And forgive duplicate emails. Thanks, deb

Tip 1: Conversate or converse

A reader writes:

Here is something that drives me nuts.   The word, ‘conversating.’ It isn’t even a word, is it? But I have heard it used, and it makes me crazy.

Okay, I’ll bite. ‘Conversate’ is a back-formation based on ‘conversation,’ but the reader is correct: while used with some frequency, it is not considered standard. I don’t need to tell you that it shouldn’t be used in your formal writing, do I? ‘Converse’ is the appropriate verb. You save a syllable which is always good, and it is more elegant than ‘conversate.’

We had a similar discussion back in 2009 about the verb ‘orientate’ which suffers from the same malady (at least here in the US—it’s much more accepted in the UK).

(Hmmm, I wonder if ‘disorientate’ is used in the UK? That sounds pretty wacky to my American ear.)

And I’ll say the same thing that I told you back then. When using these nonstandard words, you run the risk of your audience thinking that you are not well-educated or worse, that you are stupid and don’t know proper English. So my advice is to NEVER use them—informally or formally—in speech or in writing. Let them begone!

Dear reader, I hope this helps to restore your sanity. It’s not good to be driven nuts.

Tip 2: Allow or allow for

A reader writes:

Would it be possible to discuss ‘allow to,’ and ‘allow for’ ? It is a little bit confusing for a non-native English speaker.

I think the reader means ‘allow’ versus ‘allow for,’ because, generally, there is an object (noun) between ‘allow’ and ‘to.’

Please allow me to introduce myself.

I can’t allow you to go outside without a jacket.

Used in this sense, ‘allow’ means ‘permit’ or ‘give permission.’

It also can mean ‘fail to stop something from happening.’

The hermit allowed the grass to grow wild around the house and the yard.

It can also mean ‘admit.’

The intern allowed that she was not the most experienced person to give the flu shots.

‘Allow for’ is a little different. It means ‘make allowances for’ or ‘consider the possibility of something.’

The instructor allowed for the possibility that the students really did forget to bring their homework assignments to class.

What this sentence means is that although the instructor really believes that the students haven’t done the assignment, he is open to the possibility that they really did the work and just forgot to bring their assignments to class.

Let’s try another one.

When we decided to go on a  picnic, we didn’t allow for the chance that the rain would be as hard and continuous as it was.

In this sentence, the writer is stating that the friends didn’t consider the possibility that it would keep raining when they first made up their minds to go on a picnic.

When the passenger was making flight reservations, he made a point of allowing for delays between connecting flights.

 What this sentence is saying is that the passenger, when making plane reservations, made allowances for the variability in flight arrival times to ensure he had enough time to make his connection in the event of a delay.

So ‘allow (object) to’ should be used when you are talking about ‘letting’ someone do something, and ‘allow for’ should be used when you are  ‘considering possibilities when you are making a plan.’

I hope that helps.




  1. Joe said,

    Really clear. Thank you!

  2. Frankie said,

    Yup, disorientate is fine with us wacky Brits :))

    • dlseltzer said,

      Thanks for letting me know.

    • Jeff said,

      They use it on Doctor Who a lot lately. Crazy Brits…

  3. Warsaw Will said,

    To back up Frankie, while oriented would sound OK to British ears (even though we might prefer orientated), disoriented would sound really weird. In fact when I try ‘disorient’ in Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, it automatically takes me to ‘disorientate’, although it does list ‘disorient’ as an also ran.

  4. Michelle said,

    May I please receive this post by email?

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