The verb to let seems unassuming at first glance. But there are two difficulties when it comes to its spelling and its grammar: When should it be written with an apostrophe? Do you need the preposition to when using let with infinitive verbs? Let’s answer these two questions by offering some examples for each case.
“Let’s” Is Not the Same as “Lets”
The confusion of let’s and lets is understandable, as both forms exist:
- Let’s is the contracted form of let us, and generally introduces suggestions:
Let’s do something about it.
After having dinner first, let’s talk about the trip next week.
- Lets is the third person, present tense form of the verb to let. It follows subjects like he/she/it.
She lets me speak with them only under one condition.
The man never lets his children play in the garden.
Whenever you are unsure which form you need to use, try to replace let’s or lets with let us, and you’ll see that only the first two sentences—those with let’s—still make sense.
Let us do something about it.
After having dinner first, let us talk about the trip next week.
She let us me speak with them only under one condition. The man never let us his children play in the garden.
Two final remarks: In British English, to let is also a synonym of to rent. So, that’s another reason why lets (without the apostrophe) can also appear as a verb. Similarly, there is a noun let; lets is its plural form. It refers to a situation in tennis where the ball touches the net and the player must replay the serve.
My neighbor lets this apartment for himself and his wife.
That was the fastest of all the lets in this match.
When talking about tennis scores or rentals, don’t use an apostrophe.
For negation, you can choose between two options of let’s.
Let’s not give up.
Don’t let’s give up. | Don’t let us give up.
(Informal but viable options, especially in British English,
although used less frequently)
Let + Infinitive—With or Without “To”
All of those meanings aside, the verb to let is an auxiliary with the sense of permitting or allowing something.
He decided to let his beard grow.
Typically, it cannot stand alone like in:
Yesterday, I just let her.
It usually needs to be followed with another verb that appears on its own (without the preposition to).
Compare the verbs (to) want and (to) let:
You wanted to go to the party, but your parents wouldn’t let you [Ø] leave.
- To want is a verb that requires the to afterwards, other examples are: to like, to aspire, to promise, to refuse, to claim, to decide, to afford, to proceed, to tend, etc. Many of these verbs don’t always need to be followed by an infinitive, but if they are, never without to.
- Let is a verb that never precedes a “to + infinitive”-construction. Others of this kind are modal verbs like would, could, should, shall, can, may, might, etc.
So instead of saying:
Don't let any negativity to affect you.
You should drop the to:
Don't let any negativity [Ø] affect you.
Watch out for cases where an object (or object pronoun) comes between let and the following verb, as you still should not use the preposition to:
Let it go.
Let it be.
Let them do that.
This grammar rule is already included in the standard version of LanguageTool, an incredible writing assistant that always manages to distinguish between let’s and lets. Without any let or hindrance, it reminds you to drop the unnecessary to in infinitive constructions. Let’s dive in into the world of spelling and writing style, let alone the various synonym alternatives that LanguageTool offers on top of that.
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