Explaining the difference between ban and forbid

Discussion in 'English Only' started by cirrus, Oct 6, 2006.

  1. cirrus

    cirrus Senior Member

    Crug Hywel
    UK English
    In Spanish these translate the same way and has been discussed (albeit not conclusively in this thread). I am convinced there is a difference.

    My hunch is that if you ban something that means you no longer allow something that used to be permitted.
    Here are some examples:
    Smoking has been banned on trains and planes and increasingly is being banned in all but private buildings. During prohibition, making, importing, selling and drinking alchol were all banned.
    Lighting barbecues is banned during droughts to prevent wildfires

    Forbid to me implies it isn't permitted and never has been.

    Do you share this way of understanding the difference between the two?

    I'm all ears.
  2. Hockey13

    Hockey13 Senior Member

    Irvine, California
    I think it depends on the context and the direct object.

    Drinking has been banned on trains. - You are not allowed to drink as decreed in the past.

    Drinking is banned on trains. - You are not allowed to drink.

    Drinking is forbidden on trains. - You are not allowed to drink.

    Drinking has been forbidden on trains. :cross: This is wrong without adding a specified period of time.

    For people, however, it changes up:

    I forbid you to go there! - The speaker is an authority figure and he is disallowing you to go somewhere. Cannot be used with ban.

    I am banning you from this forum. - The user is no longer allowed to access the forum. Cannot be used with forbid.
  3. viera Senior Member

    Paris suburb
    I agree with Cirrus. All the examples I can think of using "to ban" refer to previously allowed behaviour (nuclear testing, whale hunting, membership...)
  4. Victoria32

    Victoria32 Senior Member

    New Zealand
    English (UK) New Zealand
    I would agree with Cirrus, although I had never thought about it before...
  5. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    Ban is mostly (not necessarily always) used in the past tense, or the future. Has the verb been banned from the present?
    No, but it's just not common.

    Chewing cabbage leaves will be banned as of four pm.
    Chewing cabbage leaves while talking on a cell phone was and should have been banned.
    Chewing cabbage leaves while reciting odes is banned forbidden.

    In the present tense, forbid seems the usual verb to express "not allowed". I agree that ban normally refers to something previously allowed, while forbid just says not allowed.
  6. Cheeky-Monkey Senior Member

    What about 'prohibit' ? Thank you.
  7. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    English - England
    Although there is a massive overlap in the meanings of ban, forbid and prohibit, one meaning/use of prohibit is weaker and has the nuance of "something stops/prevents you from doing something." (Compare with inhibit). We can ask:

    A: "I can mend your fence on Wednesday."
    B: "What prohibits you from mending the fence on Tuesday?" (very formal)
    A: "I will be at a meeting in London."

    "What prohibits you from mending the fence on Tuesday?" = "What reason prevents your being able to mend the fence on Tuesday?"

    You will note that, in this context, there is no real authority behind 'prohibit', whereas with forbid and ban, an authority or someone in authority has announced* an enforcible rule.

    Thus, we do not say, "What forbids you from mending the fence on Tuesday?" (This was possible about 150 years ago, but is now archaic or rare.) and we do not say, "What bans you from mending the fence on Tuesday?" but we can say, "What law/rule/order forbids/bans you from mending the fence on Tuesday?" (However, logically and culturally, nobody would ask such a question.)

    * Interestingly, to ban used to mean to proclaim, and still exists as a noun (plural) in this meaning -> see 'marriage bans.'

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