The word let’s is a contraction of “let us,” while lets is written for the present tense in the singular, third-person perspective. Either word uses the verb ‘to let,’ which conveys the act of allowing something to happen.
What is the difference between lets vs. let’s?
Lets and let’s share a pronunciation because they have the same word, let, and a letter “s” at the end. But if you’re new to learning English grammar, you should know that either term communicates a different meaning.
Let’s vs. let us
The primary difference between let and let’s is that the latter features an apostrophe. We use the apostrophe for let’s because it’s a contraction for ‘let us.’ This might seem like an outdated way to start a sentence, but that’s because it’s more prevalent to use ‘let’s’ instead.
We use let’s because it’s faster than saying two words, and it sounds more polite. Let’s is also more common than ‘let us’ because the phrase is easily confused with ‘allow us,’ which is similar but communicates the act of asking for permission.
To illustrate, let’s compare sentences with let’s vs. let us:
“Let us begin with chapter four.” vs. “Let’s begin with chapter four.”
“Let us go to the movies.” vs. “Let’s go to the movies.”
“Let us wine and dine.” vs. “Let’s wine and dine.”
‘Let’s’ communicates a clear invitation to action in a way that’s similar to “we should.” The word ‘let’s’ also sounds less demanding and more polite than “let us,” which may convey a pretentious tone to some audiences.
Additionally, the second and third examples sound as though we’re asking for permission, don’t they? Without the context of learning about “let’s,” could you tell the difference in meaning?
Lets vs. to let
The second major difference is that we use lets to write in the third person singular tense for the verb ‘to let.’ When this happens, the word let is written in the simple present tense to mean ‘allow.’ For example,
“Mom lets me watch tv all day.”
“He lets his dog sleep in the bed.”
Unlike the contraction of “let’s,” the word lets is not an invitation whatsoever. The word “lets” describes how someone permits something to happen.
What does let mean?
The verb let describes the act of giving permission or consent, but it’s less formal than its synonym, ‘to allow.’ Depending on whether we write the verb let for the past, present, or future tense, the word might appear as lets, letting, and let. Example sentences with the word let include,
“Dad won’t let me go with you.”
“Let me in!”
“Don’t let the haters get you down.”
“Who let the dogs out?”
“Please, let her win.”
Allow, approve, authorize, commission, empower, leave, license, permit, sanction.
Bar, block, deter, discourage, constrain, enjoin, forbid, impede, inhibit, obstruct, prevent, prohibit.
Let as a noun
The word let also exists as a noun, and its definition may depend on location. British English speakers use the noun let to define the length of a lease for a room or property, or the rental space, itself. For example,
“We signed a year’s let for the apartment.”
“I applied for my dream let.”
The same definition of let acts as a verb in the same way that we use the verbs ‘to rent,’ ‘to lease,’ or ‘to sublet.’ For instance,
“I’m letting my studio near campus while I study abroad.”
Non-British English defines the noun let as something that hinders progress movement.
“I need space to work without any let or distractions.”
British Eng.: contract, hire, lease, loan, rent, sublease.
Non-Brit.: Bar, block, deterrent, encumbrance, hindrance, hurdle, impediment, interference, obstruction, shackles.
Non-Brit.: Advantage, aid, assistance, catalyst, edge, impetus, incentive.
How to use let’s in a sentence?
We use let’s as the contraction of the words “let us,” so it’s important to remember the apostrophe to indicate as much. The use of contractions and punctuation marks is also notable for words like “it’s” for “it is” or “‘tis” for “it is.”
People use “let’s” instead of “let us” because it’s a more direct yet, polite way of suggesting a plan of action. After all, “let us” is like saying, “we are going to do this” or “this is happening now.” Since “let’s” is more informal than “let us,” it sounds less demanding and conveys more respect for people’s autonomy.
Another essential tip for using “let’s” is to understand which type of words come before and after. The verbal phrase “let us” acts like a prepositional phrase for a different verb, so it’s confusing to follow “let’s” with a noun, adjective, preposition, or an article like “the.” For example,
Correct: “Let’s go to the store” or “Let us go to the store.”
Incorrect: “Let’s to the store” or “Let us to the store.”
Incorrect: “Let’s the store” or “Let us the store.”
The second and third examples are incorrect for different reasons. The second example places the preposition “to” after “let’s” and “let us,” which changes the sentence’s meaning altogether. In either case, the sentences communicate: “show me to the store” or “take me to the store.”
The third example places the determiner “the” after “let’s” and “let us,” which also changes the sentence’s meaning. “Let’s the store” doesn’t make any sense, but “let us the store” communicates “lease us the store.” See the difference?
Common phrases with the word let’s and their meanings
There are several idioms English speakers use with the contraction “let’s.” Here are three common phrases to know and their meanings:
- Let’s face it/let’s be honest: An expression said to present a realistic perspective for a discussion.
- Let’s say: An expression used at the beginning of a statement to introduce a pretend or a hypothetical scenario.
- Let’s pretend: A different form of “let’s say,” or the scenario in which people act out fictional characters or situations.
How to use lets in a sentence?
While researching the word let, several references state how “lets” is either the singular present tense form of the verb or the third-person singular form of the verb let. We know, it’s confusing.
Either grammatical explanation is a long way of saying that we use the verb let as “lets” when:
- The sentence subject she, him, or it pronouns.
- The subject is discussed through third-person narration, which means that the subject is discussed objectively, and commits the use of I, you, we, or they pronouns.
“She lets Google track her location.”
“He lets his kids watch I Love New York.”
“It depends on if it lets us pass.”
Adding the extra letter “s” is a common occurrence for verbs when paired with she, him, or it pronouns, but this is only true for “let” in the present tense, and when it’s from a third-person perspective.
For all other tenses, such as the simple past or future, we only use the form of let or letting. Let’s take a quick look at how we use the verb let for other tense forms and keep in mind that, outside of the present tense, all pronouns use “let” the same.
Future: “It will let.”
Future perfect: “It will have let.”
Past continuous: “It was letting.”
Past perfect: “It had let.”
Future continuous: “It will be letting.”
Present perfect continuous: “It has been letting.”
Past perfect continuous: “It had been letting.”
Future perfect continuous: “It will have been letting.”
You may notice how the verb form of “letting” is more common across the verb tenses than let or lets, or how we never add an “s” at the end of “letting.” Based on this observation, it might be helpful to note the following:
- Use “let” for the present, future, future perfect, or past perfect tenses.
- Only use “lets” for the present tense with she, he, or it pronouns.
- Use “letting” for all past, present, or future continuous tenses.
Common phrases with the verb let and their meanings
Numerous sayings in the English Language use the word let, and most of them use “lets” in the present tense, as well. Here is a quick run-down of popular “let/lets” phrases with their meanings:
- Let someone down gently/easy: To reject someone or provide bad news in an empathetic manner.
- Let something fly: To allow something to occur.
- Let something drop: To break or release information.
- Let oneself go: To behave in an uninhibited manner or to fall into poor habits.
- Let something go: To respond in a non-reactive manner.
- Let someone have it: To physically or verbally attack someone.
- Let go/let go of: To release another from one’s control or to dismiss someone from a job or position.
- Let someone know: The act of informing someone.
How to remember the difference between lets vs. let’s?
Whether you’re a native speaker or learning conversational English as an ESL student, there are easy ways to check for the words let, lets, and let’s. To choose the right word, ask yourself two questions:
- Is the subject asking for permission or allowing something to happen? If so, use the verb let (e.g., let, lets, letting). If the subject of the verb is discussed in the third person with she, he, or it pronouns, use lets.
- Are you or the sentence subject suggesting an activity? If so, use let’s for “let us.”
Another way to remember “let’s” and its punctuation mark is to imagine the apostrophe as the “us” for “let us.” In this case, the punctuation mark is a reminder of the word absorbed into “let’s.”
FAQ: Related to lets vs. let’s
Should I use “let’s” for “let me see”?
Can you recall when you’ve heard somebody say “hmm …” or “umm …” while thinking or recalling a memory? The phrase “let’s see” works in the same way, except that it tends to contract “let me see” rather than “let us see.” While it’s informal to write “let’s see” for “let me see,” it’s safer to stick with “let’s” or to write the phrase out, instead.
Lets and let’s are commonly confused words, so before you begin writing, test how much you’ve learned the following multiple-choice questions. For questions 3-5, choose the correct form of let or let’s.
- Let’s is the proper contracted form of __________.
a. Let us
b. Allow us
c. Permit us
d. Let me
- The word let is synonymous with which term(s)?
- “Mom won’t _______ this behavior fly around here.”
d. A and B
- “After a breakup, he really _______ himself go.”
- “After shopping at the mall, _______ go out for dinner.”
- “Let.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2020.
- “Let.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2020.
- “To let.” Reverso Conjugation, Reverso-Softissimo, 2019.
- “First vs. third person.” Writing Center, Ashford University, n.d.