Even the most experienced writers lack a clear distinction between lets and let’s. I’m guilty of it. One is a third-person, singular, present tense version of let, while the other is a contraction for let us.
Is it lets or let’s? Good question. I’ll show you the difference between lets and let’s with examples of how to use them in a sentence.
Lets vs. Let’s: The Correct Way to Use Each Word
Don’t let the pesky apostrophe let you misuse lets and let’s.
Let’s with the single apostrophe is the contraction of let us. It means allow us or permit us. It’s an indirect way to tell others what the speaker should do with them.
For instance, T.S. Eliot’s phrase “Let us go then, you and I” uses the uncontracted form or the two-word phrase. It’s the same as “Let’s go then, you and I” from The Love Song by J. Alfred Prufrock. Here are more examples:
- Let’s visit another country next year.
- Let’s see what she’s doing.
You can also use it as a polite way to tell people what to do. For example:
- Let’s be careful of what we post online.
- Let’s turn to page ten of the book.
In these sentences, the speaker does not necessarily want to join the other people in “being careful” or “turning the page.” They are simply being polite while commanding.
Remember that we usually find let’s at the beginning of an imperative sentence. Its subject is a hidden you.
If you’re still confused about the meaning of let’s, it’s better to use the whole phrase. For example:
- Let us solve these problems as a team.
- Let us find the secret to success.
Let us is also more ideal in formal writing. For instance, let us pray is more common in churches, while let’s pray it doesn’t rain today is more common in casual conversations.
The negative form of let’s is let’s not. For example:
- Let’s not dwell on the past anymore.
- Let’s not talk when our mouths are full.
Lets without the apostrophe is a conjugation of the verb let. It is in the third-person singular present tense form. This verb means to release, leave, or allow. For example:
- She lets me borrow her phone sometimes.
- My friend lets me pet her dog.
Do not use lets when the subject is plural or if you’re using first- and second-person subjects. For example:
- Incorrect version: These websites lets millions of writers publish their works.
Correct version: These websites let millions of writers publish their works.
“Lets Go” or “Let’s Go”
Two-word phrases can be more confusing when they include contractions. The correct phrase is let’s go, a shortened version of let us go. For example:
- Let’s go somewhere peaceful.
- Let’s go somewhere warm.
Is There a Word “Lets”?
You might forget that the word lets exists because we often read it with a measly apostrophe. Lets is the third-person, singular present tense version of the verb let. For example:
- Mona lets her little sister play in her bedroom.
- Either Mary or Marianne lets visitors take some of their plants.
What Type of Word Is “Let’s”?
Let’s is a contraction for let us. Let is a verb, while us is an objective-case pronoun. An apostrophe joins them to form one word. For example:
- Let’s see what’s inside the box.
- Let’s buy friendship bracelets before graduating.
What Is the Past Tense of “Let”?
The past tense of let is let because it’s an irregular verb. Irregular verbs do not follow the usual pattern for their simple past and participle forms. For example:
- We let our magazines be proof of our professional writing. (simple present)
- My mother let me go to the mall yesterday. (simple past)
Summary of “Lets” and “Let’s”
Don’t feel ashamed if the tricky apostrophe in let’s makes you confused about let’s and lets. Remember:
- Lets is the third-person singular present tense form of the verb let.
- Let’s is a shortened one-word version of let us, using a single apostrophe to join the two words.
These small words have huge distinctions in English grammar. And being able to understand these differences leads to strong writers.