Easily Confused Words: Let’s vs. Lets

Let’s and lets are easily confused words.

The spell-check application of most word processing software programs would not catch a slip-up of these two words. Spell-check is looking for words that aren’t in its dictionary, and words that resemble words in its dictionary but are possibly spelled wrong. Spell-check isn’t perfect. It doesn’t know and can’t guess what word you wanted or what word you meant, it can only judge the words on the page. If you used words that are all spelled correctly, it gives you a pass anyway.

Autocorrect suggests words that start with the same letters. It’s suggesting what word you may want to save time, but quite often, its suggestions are pretty off base. They don’t help you out, but they do make you laugh.

Let’s is a first person possessive pronoun. It’s a contraction of “Let us.” It is used when the speaker is suggesting a shared activity with surrounding people or like-minded people in the near future, for instance, let’s go to brunch this afternoon.

Lets has multiple meanings.

  • As a verb, especially in the UK, it means “rents for.” For instance, a flat “lets for X pounds a week,” means it rents for X amount a week.
  • As a verb, it means “to be allowed to do something”. Typically the speaker is discussing permission given by someone else that allows him/her, or someone else to act in a certain way.

If there’s any doubt about when to use this contraction, break it up. For “let’s,” substitute “let us” in your sentence. And consider who is speaking to whom. Is the speaker proposing a plan of action (let’s/let us), or is it someone else giving the permission to perform that action? (lets). Is this permissive action something granted repeatedly by someone else (lets), or just one time in the past, or in a conditional circumstance? (let)

The following story uses both words correctly:

Leticia was a busy working mom of four. Her partner was stationed overseas, so she had her hands full. She tries to keep the children on a regular schedule during the week. On Fridays, she lets them stay up a little later to watch a family film. One Sunday in spring, it was unseasonably warm. Over breakfast, she told the kids, “Let’s go to the beach today! It’s beautiful and there’s no tourists!”

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