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What is the Difference Between "Lets" and "Let's?"

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  • Written By: Dan Cavallari
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 26 September 2016
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The words "lets" and "let's" are very commonly confused because they sound exactly the same. The difference exists only on paper, but the difference is an important one. The word "lets" is a verb, or action word, that means "to allow." The word "let's" is a contraction that means "let us." The word "lets" also has other meanings, while "let's" is only the contraction of "let us." The difference between "lets" and "let's" does not matter during verbal communication, as both words sound identical, but in written English, the difference between "lets" and "let's" is important and worth knowing.

A few examples help to clarify the difference between "lets" and "let's."

John lets the dog outside every morning.

Let's go to the supermarket for potato chips and soda.

In the first sentence, John is performing an action; he is letting the dog go outside, but he is doing it in the present tense. Since John is not the first person (I), or the second person (you), this means he is the third person (he, she, it, or a proper noun). The word "lets" is therefore the third person singular of the verb "let."

In the second sentence, the contraction, or shortened form, of the words "let us" is used. If you replace "let's" with the expanded form, the sentence reads like this:

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Let us go to the supermarket for potatoes and chips.

The meaning does not change; the words are simply shortened to make the sentence flow better and to make the sentence easier to say out loud. The difference between "lets" and "let's" becomes apparent when you consider contractions in general, such as the following:

Did not contracts to didn't, as in "John didn't know where the dog went."

Could not contracts to couldn't, such as "I couldn't hear the speaker over all the background noise."

Should have contracts to should've, as in "Tracy should've brought money for the entrance fee."

It is contracts to it's. For example, "It's going to rain today, so I should bring my umbrella to work."

If you use the long form in any of the above examples, the meaning of the sentence remains the same, but the sentence is read differently — often more smoothly. Either the contracted form or the expanded form of the words are acceptable and correct to use in the sentence. The basic rule of thumb for remembering the difference between "lets" and "let's" is to only use "let's" if you intend to say "let us."

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anon356556
Post 4

Excellent explanation for a non-native speaker. Thanks!

bythewell
Post 3

Whenever I'm not sure whether I should use an apostrophe or not, I just break the words apart and see if it still makes sense. So, I'll say "let's go to the park" and change it to "let us go to the park". That still makes sense, so I know that I should use the apostrophe.

I think it's a bit more difficult with the word 'let's', because it is used so often that saying "let us" sounds quite old fashioned now.

croydon
Post 2
@irontoenail - I have to say that I hope not. The difference between let's and lets is fairly logical and is the same logic that applies with other word structures, like your and you're and so forth.

English is already too full of irregular words and grammar without removing perfectly logical ways of distinguishing different words.

irontoenail
Post 1

I can't help but wonder if, 50 years from now, let's and lets will both be used without the apostrophe. It seems like many of the mistakes that creep into our written language over the internet are beginning to be immortalized. Recently they decided to put into one of the dictionaries that "literally" means "figuratively" because that's how people use it, even if that's not what it technically is supposed to mean.

I'm not the kind of person who minds that the language tends to evolve, but I do think it's interesting and I wonder if we will see some big changes in the next few decades or not.

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