Translating 'Let'

Translation of Common English Verb Depends on Meaning

Spanish restaurant in Tokyo
¡Cenemos afuera! (Let's eat out!). Photo by Antoio Tajuela; licensed via Creative Commons.

Question: I am having trouble with "let." For instance, I will think, "Let me write that down." How would I correctly say this sentence in Spanish?

Answer: "Let" is one of those English words that can be translated numerous ways in Spanish, because "let" itself has numerous meanings.

In the example you gave, in most contexts I would probably say, "Quiero apuntar eso," which has a literal meaning of "I want to write that down." If you wish a more precise translation and indeed are seeking permission to take notes, use "Déjame apuntar eso" or "Déjeme apuntar eso," depending on whether you are speaking in the familiar or formal second person, respectively.

Dejar is the most common verb meaning "to allow," so what you're saying is "allow me to write that down."

What is important when translating from one language to another is to look for the meaning of what you want to say and translate that rather than attempting to translate words. You simply cannot translate "let" the same way all the time. And if what you mean by "let" is "I want to," then just say the equivalent of that — it's much simpler!

A few of the verbs you can use to translate "let" or phrases that use "let" include liberar (to let go), alquilar (to rent out), avisar (to let someone know), soltar (to let go), fallar (to let down or disappoint), perdonar (to let somebody off, to excuse) and cesar (to let up). It all depends on the meaning of what you're trying to say.

And, of course, in English we use "let" to form first-person plural commands, as in "let's leave" or "let's sing." In Spanish, that meaning is expressed in a special verb form (the same as the first-person plural subjunctive), as in salgamos and cantemos, respectively.

Finally, Spanish sometimes uses que followed by a verb in the subjunctive to form an indirect command that can be translated using "let," depending on the context. Example: Que vaya él a la oficina. (Have him go to the office, or let him go to the office.)

Here are sentences illustrating possible translations for "let":

  • El gobierno cubano liberó al empresario. (The Cuban government let the entrepreneur go.)
  • Déjele hablar sin interrupción. (Let him speak without interruption.)
  • Te comunicaremos si algo ha cambiado. (We'll let you know if anything has changed.)
  • Los captores soltaron a los rehenes a las cuatro de la madrugada. (The captors let the hostages free at 4 a.m.)
  • Me fallaba muchísimo. (He let me down a lot.)
  • Vive y dejar vive. (Live and let live.)
  • A mi no me decepciona nadie porque no espero nada de nadie. Nobody lets me down because I don't expect anything from anybody.
  • Mis padres alquilaron un piso en 2013 por 400 euros por semana. (My parents let out a floor in 2013 for 400 euros weekly.)
  • ¡Me deja en paz! (Let me be alone!)
  • Avísame si no puedes hacerlo. (Let me know if you can't do it.)
  • Por fin aflojó la ira de la tormenta. (The fury of the storm finally let up.)
  • Hay ciertos amigos a los que no quiero dejar entrar en mi casa. (There are some friends I don't want to let into my house.)
  • Desde entonces, se desmejoró y creció su abatimiento físico y moral. (Since then, he let himself go and sank deeper physically and morally.)