Let, Permit or Allow?

“The best thing one can do when it’s raining is to let it rain.”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, an American poet and educator

Let, allow and permit are verbs which are sometimes confused. They are synonyms related to giving permission, but of course there are nuances which we should bear in mind. Let’s pay attention to them!

LET

To let somebody/something do something means to allow something to happen or someone to do something by not doing anything to stop an action or by giving your permission:

  • He wanted to leave but she wouldn’t let him.
  • I’d like to let my hair grow.
  • Let me show you how much I care (in this situation the speaker uses “let” to show that they wish something very much).

Remember not to us “to” after “let”!

“Let” is also used to show that you accept what is going to happen, although you don’t like it:

  • Let it snow!

PERMIT & ALLOW

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, to permit is to allow something, and to allow is to give permission, or permit something. It is pretty confusing but remember that to permit is more formal than to allow.

Both verbs can be used with the -ing verb:

  • If they allow smoking in the restaurant, I won’t come here anymore. 
  • They don’t permit using dictionaries during the exam. 

Both verbs can be used with a noun object:

  • We allow pets in our restaurant.
  • We can’t permit this behavior.

Both verbs can be used with an object + infinitive:

  • Please allow me to stay.
  • The system will not permit you to enter the building.

To allow can also be used with 2 objects:

  • Please allow me enough time to write a report. 

To permit can be used with “of” to add formality:

  • The contract permits of only one interpretation.

To permit can also mean to make something possible:

  • If the weather permits, we’ll have a picnic on Saturday.

PASSIVE VOICE

As a rule, “let” isn’t used with the passive, unlike “allow” and “permit” (which is more formal):

  • You are allowed to use the Internet whenever you need to.
  • Photography is not permitted in the museum. (official public notices often use “permit” like this)

PERMIT VS. PERMISSION

Permit (countable) is an official document permitting you do something:

  • You need a work permit to get a job in Japan.
  • You don’t need a permit to travel in this country.
  • Obtain a residence permit to stay. 

Permission (uncountable) is an action of officially allowing someone to do something:

  • You’ve got my permission to use my car.
  • Do you have your parents’ permission to do it?

USEFUL PHRASES

Here is some more vocabulary for you. Make sure to use it appropriately, paying close attention to formality:

To take the liberty of doing sth. (formal) I took the liberty of booking the tickets for us (I did it without your permission, at my own discretion).
To let oneself do sth.  I let myself fall under your spell! (I fell in love with you, I didn’t do anything to stop myself from falling)
To allow oneself sth./to do sth.  I allowed myself to bring a bottle of champagne as a sign of gratitude.

I allowed myself a fantasy.

With your permission (formal) With your permission, I’ll submit the assignment tomorrow.
If you’ll excuse me (“will” shows willingness here, not the Future Simple tense) (formal) Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go.
With your indulgence (formal) With your indulgence, let me comment on the presentation.
If I may (formal) If I may, I’d like to express my opinion on the matter.
With/by your leave (formal) With your leave, I will do it now.
If you please (used in very polite requests) A cup of coffee, if you please.
If that’s OK  I’ll take this one, if that’s OK.
 If you don’t mind  I’ll open the window, if you don’t mind.