Common Grammar Mistakes: Let’s versus Lets.

Common Grammar Mistakes: Let's versus Lets. (From jdeeringdavis on Flickr.)

This week, while working with a number of students on their final papers and transfer essays, a particular grammar question popped up. Well, to say it “popped up” is a bit of an understatement; this question came from not one, but SIX students, separately, yet almost all on the same day. (Travis, you broke up the would-be flash mob. Shame on you.)

So, because my students have assumed a Voltron-like formation to ask me the same, exact question (!), I will answer it here.

What is the difference between let’s and lets?

“To let” means to allow or to permit, as in “I let the dogs out each morning.” It also means to lease or rent, as in “Wanted: Apartment to let” but let’s (HA!) not get ahead of ourselves here.

“Lets,” then, is the third person singular present tense form of “to let.” Translation: you use it with he, she, or it when using the present tense, like this: “Sally lets her brother use her bicycle on weekends.”

Easy enough, right? Now, for the second part.

“Let’s,” with an apostrophe, is a contraction of “let” and “us.” It is commonly used in first personal plural commands, like “Let’s go!” or “Let’s eat!” For the less enthusiastic, “let’s” commands without exclamation points suffice as well.

As a contraction, “Let’s go!” really means “Let us go.” This contraction, like most others, is more informal– after all, trips to the grocery store don’t have to be quite so dramatic.

Here’s another example of what I mean: “Guys, let’s go to the beach.” In reality, you’re really saying “Guys, let us go to the beach,” albeit in a less formal, contracted way.

So, therein lies the difference: “Lets” is a third person singular conjugation of the word “let,” as in, “She lets me watch sports” or “It lets you download more information.” “Let’s,” in turn, is the contraction of “let” and “us,” used in plural commands, such as “Let’s get started” or “Let’s get married.”

A good rule of thumb:
To ensure you’re using the proper form of “let’s,” substitute “let’s” with “allow us” when constructing a command. It’s an extra step but, by keeping this in mind, you’ll be sure to choose to right form.

Here’s what I mean:

With “let’s”: Let’s grab some sushi.
With “allow us”: Allow us [to] grab some sushi.

This makes sense, right? It may be overly formal, but it’s nonetheless grammatically sound. Of course, you don’t actually have to substitute “let’s” with “allow us” in your writing; however, by keeping this in mind, you will know (and use!) the correct choice.

And, that’s it. Once you know the difference, it’s easy to remember. Granted, I don’t have a funny mnemonic this time around (sorry!), but it’s relatively easy to keep these two straight.

2 Responses to Common Grammar Mistakes: Let’s versus Lets.

  1. Ferran Royo says:

    Thank you for your article and help!

  2. Oooh, nappropriate apostrophe use is one of my biggest pet peeves – once you learn about it, it always jumps out at you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *