Aubrey Carter
"3 Keys IELTS Certified Coach"
Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"

Difficult English vocabulary even confuses native speakers!

One example of this is the words forbid, disallow, prohibit and deny.

Many native speakers would argue that they mean the same thing.

However, they each have different meanings and only one is the opposite of ‘allow.’

In today’s episode, you learn high-level vocabulary tips.

These will help you distinguish the subtle differences between this vocabulary in English.

Listen in and learn how you can use these words when talking to colleagues or government officials.

Confusing vocabulary

Aubrey saw a quiz on Tiktok that many native English speakers answered incorrectly.

She shared it with Lindsay to see if she’d know the answer.

A lot of native English speakers give the wrong answer to this question.

The question is:

What is the opposite of the verb allow?

A. forbid

B. disallow

C. prohibit

D. deny

Only one is correct!

If you think that all of these are the opposite of allow, you are not alone.

Most native English speakers get confused by this question as well.

The right answer to the question is A- forbid.

All of the words above have subtle differences in meaning.

You will learn all of them in today’s episode.

The difference between this vocabulary

There are key differences between forbid, disallow, prohibit and deny.

This is an interesting high-level vocabulary tip that you should learn to elevate your English skills.

You can’t always rely on the thesaurus.

It can be confusing because synonyms listed in the thesaurus have different meanings depending on the context.

You must learn vocabulary in context so you use it correctly.

#1: Forbid

Forbid is the opposite of allow.

This means to not allow something.

Here is an example:

  • She forbids her children to eat dessert.

This a very extreme word which is why most people avoid using it.

Lindsay shares she is watching the show “Handmaid’s Tale,” which is very extreme and she could imagine the word ‘forbid’ being used.

The show is about a very disturbing dystopian universe.

#2: Disallow

This can be confused as the opposite of allow.

It is often used in a formal setting.

To disallow means to deem something that exists as invalid.

Here are examples:

  • The judge disallowed her testimony.
  • The official will disallow the goal.

You would most likely hear this in formal proceedings or news reports.

#3: Prohibit

To prohibit means to officially not allow something or someone under a law or ruling.

This can be seen on signs, in HR policies, or in lawful documentation.

This can also mean making something impossible.

  • Smoking is prohibited in this bar.
  • The high walls of the prison prohibit escape.
  • Limited funds prohibit our success.

Lindsay mentions that she has used the word prohibitive when talking about inflation.

In this way, it means something is made impossible due to a certain circumstance.

#4: Deny

This is the opposite of ‘approve.’

This means refusing to approve or grant something.

You would use this with something that has an approval process.

  • He denied her the chance to interview for the job.
  • She was denied access to the company’s intranet.


The words ‘forbid’, ‘disallow’, ‘prohibit’ and ‘deny’ have similar meanings.

Due to this, you must be careful to not be tricked into using them synonymously.

With today’s episode, you now know the difference between these words.

You can hear them in a conversation by listening to this quick roleplay.

Aubrey: Are there any rules you’ve had to establish for your puppy?

Lindsay: Definitely. We forbid him to jump on the furniture.

Aubrey: Does he obey?

Lindsay: Sometimes he would try to jump up but we’ve always denied access.

Aubrey: What fun places are you able to take him?

Lindsay: Unfortunately, dogs are prohibited at our favorite pub.

Aubrey: Oh no! You should submit a formal petition for them to change their rules.

Lindsay: Unfortunately, I think they’d disallow it.

Lindsay’s dog’s name is Kiefer which means cherished in Gaelic.

Her cute puppy is the inspiration for this roleplay which sounds a bit formal.

Some of these words are used more in a formal setting.

For example, you might need them when talking to a politician or lawyer.

They come up often in conversations about court or the law.


There are many English words that are confusing!

Additionally, you can’t always trust the thesaurus to find synonyms!

Don’t let that stop you from using them in your conversations.

Native English speakers often use simple vocabulary.

However, if you’ve learned higher-level vocabulary, use it!

In today’s episode, Aubrey has shared a quiz question you can ask your English-speaking friends.

Ask friends and colleagues to see if you can stump them!

What are other confusing words you hear often?

Share one in the comments below!

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