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

One means "allows" or "permits," and the other means "let us"

lets and let's

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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, permit, or release. 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 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

Here are some examples of sentences using "lets" and "let's."

  • Sometimes my grandmother lets (allows) us to go to the park in the evening and play on the long stretches of soft grass.
  • "On the corner of Prospect Avenue and East 167th Street where the bus lets me out [releases], I see Rakeem waiting for me." (Carolyn Ferrell, "Proper Library," from Ploughshares)
  • "Dirt is a great respecter of persons; it lets [leaves] you alone when you are well dressed, but as soon as your collar is gone it flies towards you from all directions." (George Orwell, "Down and Out in Paris and London")
  • "My stories run up and bite me on the leg. I respond by writing down everything that goes on during the bite. When I finish, the idea lets go [releases] and runs off." (American author Ray Bradbury)
  • My little sister said, "Let's [let us] pretend the puppet family is going on a picnic."
  • “Let's [let us] go home, Bail. Let's just get to the house and we can talk. Let's go home, Bail.” (Maya Angelou, "Gather Together in My Name")

Related Grammatical Concepts

Let Us or Let's: "The difference between ['let us' and 'let's'] is largely a question of formality, as often with contractions. Compare the ceremonious 'Let us pray' with the informal 'Let's pray for rain.' The uncontracted ['let us'] is useful in formal documents when writers want to maintain an authoritative tone while involving readers in the discussion...In its negative form, this idiom becomes either 'Let us not [go into that],' 'Let's not [go into that],' or 'Don't let's [go into that).' Once again they represent degrees of formality." (Pam Peters, "The Cambridge Guide to English Usage")

Leave and Let: "Note that in standard American usage the verb 'leave' is not used as a substitute for 'let' in the sense 'to allow or permit.' Thus in the following examples only 'let' should be used: 'Let me be.' 'Let them go.' 'Let us not quarrel.' 'Let it lie.'" (The American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style)