Argument structure of allow

Ann Burlingham writes with a query about this really geeky Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal cartoon by Zach Weiner:

The query was about allowed to sporting events, with the preposition to, rather than the at she would have preferred. I myself would have preferred at or into, but don’t reject to.

As usual, the full story is complex.

(On the content of the cartoon: these are three devious ways — using repeating decimals, polar coordinates, and the constants e, π, and i — to express “We’re #1”.)

Mathematicians are no longer allowed to sporting events is passive. Let’s convert it to the active counterpart, to see more clearly what’s going on: no longer allow mathematicians to sporting events. Now it turns out that the variants with at and into represent two different argument structures (though these can sometimes be hard to distinguish).

In no longer allow mathematicians at sporting events, the PP at sporting events is an adverbial of location; compare no longer allow mathematicians inside/within the stadium ‘no longer allow mathematicians to be inside/within the stadium’.

But in no longer allow mathematicians into sporting events, the PP into sporting events is an adverbial of motion, understood as a complement of a motion verb like come or go; compare no longer allow mathematicians out of their houses ‘no longer allow mathematicians to go/come out of their houses’. This is the sense in allow to sporting events.

Searching on {“allowed to events”} pulls up a modest number of relevant examples (broader searches would find more), for instance:

Absolutely no single men are allowed to events of any kind. Men must come with their spouse or girlfriend who is already a member. [Lipstick Kiss Club] (link)

You have to dress according to your adopted period, or you are not allowed to events. [Society for Creative Anachronism] (link)

In fact, OED2 was already on the case in 1989, with this subentry under allow:

… with ellipse of inf.: to permit to go or come in, out, etc.

with cites for allow into, allow back, allow ashore, allow out, and:

1911    Rep. Labour & Social Conditions Germany III. 76   The miners who were in the company were allowed to some parts.

The motional structure with to is certainly attested, though not, apparently, with great frequency. Of course, any speaker or writer is entitled to their own taste in selecting structures, and in selecting a preposition within a structure.

2 Responses to “Argument structure of allow

  1. Rick Sprague Says:

    An alternative “repair” of the caption might be “Mathematicians are not longer admitted to sporting events”.

    Also, I interpreted the second sign as power notation (any number to the zeroth power = unity).

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      On the first point: I wasn’t really recommending a “repair”, only pointing out that different people have different preferences (within the standard language). If you’re aware of these differences — and I suspect many people are not — and you want to avoid the issue, then you could do that by choosing admit rather than allow.

      On the second point, I didn’t think of the power notation because it looked to me like the superscript on the 0 was a degree sign ˚ rather than a zero 0. But your reading makes sense — though it does bring up one of those odd puzzles in mathematics.

      Faced with the generalizations that 0^n = 0 and that n^0 = 1, there’s an obvious contradiction for 0^0, which some writers have gotten around by saying that 0^0 is undefined, though others (who seem to have won the day) say that 0^0 = 1, period. The latter writers do this in order to maintain the validity of the Binomial Theorem in its full generality.

      Note that there’s no issue of fact here; it’s a matter of mathematical convenience, much like declaring that 1 is not a prime number (even though it’s not evenly divisible by any integer other than itself and 1).

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