Lets vs. Let's: How to Choose the Right Word

One means allows and the other means let us or we should.

lets and let's

Balavan/Getty Images

The terms lets and let's sound exactly the same, and the only visual difference is the apostrophe, the little mark that looks like a floating comma. But they are different forms of the same verb, let, and have different uses.

How to Use 'Lets'

Lets (without the apostrophe) is the third-person singular form of the verb let, which means to allow, release, or leave. You can say that your friend "lets you borrow his class notes" or a neighbor "lets her dog run freely."

How to Use 'Let's'

Let's (with the apostrophe) is the contraction of let us, a phrase meaning roughly we should, as in "Let's go to the park." The uncontracted form is considered formal and is rarely seen outside of formal ceremonies or poetry, as in T.S. Eliot's phrase "Let us go then, you and I" from "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." (The phrase "let's us" is nonstandard for "let's," so let's not use it.)

Examples

These examples show the differences between the two terms and their proper uses:

  • Sometimes my grandmother lets us to go to the park in the evening and play on the long stretches of soft grass. Here the meaning of lets is to allow or permit.
  • When Sharon drives her twins to school, she lets them out of the car a block from the campus so she can avoid the traffic. In this example, lets means to release.
  • Let's find a good place for dinner tonight with a patio so we can relax and enjoy the spring weather. Here let's means we should.
  • Let's hope the waiter lets us alone and doesn't keep coming back to the table to refill our water glasses. In this example, let's means we should and lets means leaves.
  • When the trapeze artist lets go of the bar, my heart jumps into my throat. Here lets means release as part of the verb phrase lets go.

Related Grammatical Concepts

Let Us or Let'sFormality is a major part of the difference between let us and let's. It's usually true that contractions are less formal than the uncontracted forms, and that's certainly true here. "Let us pray," which is used in religious ceremonies, is more formal than "Let's pray that the crosswalk signal doesn't tell us to stop before we make it across the street."

Leave and LetStandard English usage doesn't permit leave to be used in place of let in phrases such as "let me be" (not "leave me be") or "let's go" (not "leave us go").

The negative of let's: Let's not is the acceptable negative form of let's, as in "Let's not tell anyone where we're going."

Sources