A single apostrophe is what separates lets and let's. They’re pronounced exactly the same, but have very different meanings. Both lets and let's are based on the same root verb: Let, which means "to allow or give permission." As confusing as they are, it's easier than you think to know where that pesky apostrophe goes.
Using lets when you mean let's might be an embarrassing grammar mistake that could also cause an unintended misunderstanding. That’s because they have different meanings:
- lets (verb) - third-person present tense form of "let," meaning “to allow”
- let's - contraction of "let us"
Many people mix up these words because "let us" is rarely heard in modern English, especially in casual conversation, because it sounds too formal. Let's generally means "we should," used when making suggestions about something to do. Contractions, like can’t and won’t, always require apostrophes while verbs never do.
When you use the word lets, you're using it to describe what a singular or collective noun is doing. These sentences are always in the present tense, as the past tense version of lets is always let, no matter the speaker. Sentences that use lets include:
- The teacher lets us play games on Friday.
- What should we do if no one lets us in?
- This big window really lets Jeremy see the entire city.
- My mother never lets me have dessert before dinner.
- Lara lets out a sigh as she watches the sunset.
Try substituting lets with let us in each sentence. For example: "The teacher let us us play games on Friday" or "My mother never let us me have dessert before dinner." They don't make sense because the verb let now has two objects.
Let's usually appears at the beginning of a sentence or clause. That's because the us in the contraction let’s is the subject of the sentence:
- I know you're busy, but let's meet up the next time you're in town.
- Let's hope it doesn't rain during the birthday party on Saturday.
- Let's think about all the evidence before we come to a conclusion.
- Let's all stay in touch when vacation's over.
- I'm too tired to cook, so let's go out for dinner.
- Let’s party!
- Let’s go, team!
- “Should we leave for dinner now?” “Yes, let’s!”
Two especially tricky phrases in the English language are lets go and let’s go. Both are common in conversational speech, which makes it easy to mix the two up. Lets go refers to a subject releasing something:
- The acrobat lets go of the pole.
- Our puppy lets go of the rope after playing tug-of-war.
- Henry is happier when he lets go of his stress and anxiety.
- She lets go of the steering wheel when we’re at a stoplight.
You also use lets go without an apostrophe when using the idiom that means firing or dismissing someone from their job:
Business is always stable, so our manager rarely lets go of any employees.
Let’s go typically means “we should go somewhere”:
- Let's go to the park this afternoon.
- That party sounds fun! Let's go!
- Let's go on a hike before lunch.
Notice that both lets go and let's go come before prepositions. However, only lets go is followed by of. Other prepositions, such as to or on, tend to follow let's go.
Even the most seasoned of English users will mix up lets and let’s, so let’s be kind to those who mix up a measly apostrophe. Just remember: If let us doesn’t work in the sentence, it’s probably lets you want.