Friday, November 28, 2014

Modified Meaning: "Afford" vs "Can Afford"

Today we begin the first in a series of small posts, much like the “Punctuation Problems,” “Word Mix-Ups,” and “Phrases to Avoid” series; these will be called the “Modified Meaning” posts. There are certain verbs that are frequently used with modifying words and phrases that change their meaning. Many new authors leave off the modifying phrases, however, and thus end up using the verb incorrectly. Our example today is the verb afford versus the phrase can afford (or the varieties could afford, couldn’t afford, and can’t afford.)

The verb afford is most often used in the second manner above, which means to be able (or unable) to bear a certain cost. For example:

     We wanted to buy a new computer, but we can’t afford it right now.
     I couldn’t afford to move to a larger apartment.
     The company could afford to pay all of us more.

Many beginning writers, however, might write a sentence like this:

     We afforded new clothing for the dance.

Without the modifying can or could, the verb afford means something different, rendering this sentence a bit nonsensical. When used thusly, afford means to make available, to give forth, or to provide naturally and usually requires a direct and indirect object (something affords something to something else). So our above example means “we made clothing for the dance available,” not “we were able to bear the cost of clothing for the dance.” Here are some examples of afford used correctly:

     These machines have automated the process, which affords our workers a lot of time to work on other things.
     Juan’s relationship with the coach afforded us a lot of courtside tickets.

If you're using afford on its own, you generally need both a direct object and an indirect object. Otherwise, your sentence probably won't make sense.

Usually, when using afford, you’ll mean can or can’t afford. Don’t drop the modifiers unless you’re certain you’re doing so correctly.

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