Inhibit vs Prohibit

By Maeve Maddox

Greg Landretti asks:

How about “inhibit” versus “prohibit”?

The first definition of inhibit in the OED gives “prohibit” as a synonym:

inhibit: trans. To forbid, prohibit, interdict (a person)

Several of the illustrations show inhibit being used where a modern writer would probably use prohibit. Here’s one:

By expresse words he was inhibited to beare armes without his own frontiers.

prohibit: trans. To forbid (an action, event, commodity, etc.) by a command, statute, law, or other authority

Perhaps owing to the influence of the psychology term inhibition, current usage usually associates inhibit with internal control and prohibit with external control.

inhibition: Psychol. A voluntary or involuntary restraint or check that prevents the direct expression of an instinctive impulse; also colloq., in looser use, an inner hindrance to conduct or activity.

Scientists fear that libel ruling will inhibit debate.

Most dogs need to learn to control or inhibit their behavior.

B.C. Government Says it Will Prohibit Mining in the Flathead.

New Hampshire Bill HB 1301 will prohibit no-fault divorce for parents with minor children.

The ability to inhibit one’s desires and impulses is an essential and desirable social skill. In some contexts, however, the word inhibited conveys a negative state, while uninhibited is seen as positive.

I find myself wishing I were not so inhibited.

The people from South Africa are known for the wonderful, uninhibited way in which they express their joy and happiness in life.

It was not until the twentieth century that freedom of the press came to be understood as guaranteeing an “uninhibited, robust and wide-open” public discourse.

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4 Responses to “Inhibit vs Prohibit”

  • AnonymousCoward

    I’m not sure how to suggest a discussion / ask a question about a word, so I’m hoping you’ll see the question here. This is about the distinction between the words “yoke” and “yolk”.

    If I’m remembering everything correctly, “yoke” is what you do to oxen, to have them work together in pulling a wagon. “yolk” is the yellow part of an egg. However, I’ve started seeing a lot of references to “egg yoke”. Initially, I thought it was just a misspelling by people who weren’t paying attention. But, this morning, I was looking at a standard lab sheet for blood test, and, being a curious type, happened to look through the list of all the different types of tests that could be done. On that, I saw a test for “egg yoke allergen”.

    Now, if it was just in a write-in section, that would be one thing, and I could write it off as a doctor/nurse that was writing too fast, but this was actually part of the form. Is “yoke” an accepted alternative spelling of “yolk”?

  • rod

    Last time I checked yoke is still a link for coupling or an oppressive power and yolk still carries bad cholesterol or it’s also known as vitellus
    as to the word inhibit I understand it like a suppression, self-restrain or even shyness. I know it’s supposed to be a synonym of forbidden but I wouldn’t use it instead of “ban”

  • Maeve

    @AnonymousCoward
    Errors of spelling and grammar on printed forms are common these days. I recently circled a lay/lie error on a form for patients about to undergo eye surgery.

    No yoke.

  • Garrison

    “Inhibit” implies an internal source of action. A person can be “inhibited,” which means they prevent themselves from acting. “Prohibit” implies an external source of action.

    Here are some examples:

    I am inhibited and unable to take my clothes off in public.

    I am uninhibited, but others prohibit me from taking my clothes off in public.

    Technically speaking, I cannot inhibit you, but I can prohibit you.

    Over time the regular misuse of these two words has resulted in confusion over their meaning. One hundred years ago they were not synonymous and this question would not have come up.

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