In this edition of Grammar Corner, we discuss some of the most widely used grammar errors in the English language. We don’t just correct you, though; we pinpoint exactly why a particular word/phrase/idiom is used incorrectly, while providing the context for each mistake, and then providing the right word/phrase/idiom.
Usually, our articles are centered on homonyms; that is, word pairs that sound exactly the same and spelled very similarly, but with very different meanings. For this edition of grammar corner, however, we’ll be discussing a common issue with newer writers: apostrophes.
In grammar, apostrophes have a couple of functions: it shows when a noun possesses another noun, and it’s used to indicate the omission of letters, like in contractions. Apostrophes, in general, have a set of comprehensive rules in usage, although we won’t be discussing those today. Instead, we’ll be discussing a word that is commonly used but is also commonly used wrong: let’s or lets.
Why the Confusion?
The reason for the confusion is a thing in grammar called contractions. Contractions are words that have letters omitted in an attempt to make them more succinct. When this happens, a word is shortened and the omitted letters are replaced by an apostrophe.
This ought to make it simple enough, but as mentioned earlier, apostrophes have their own set of rules of usage, one of which is concerned about the use of apostrophes in converting nouns into possessive nouns. This is why many writers, both new and experienced, make the same mistake of using one word over the other. Despite being spelled the same, lets and let’s are not interchangeable.
When to Use Lets
The word lets (sans apostrophe) is the 3rd person singular present tense of the verb let. In its basic form, the word ‘let’ means to allow. This means that Lets is a conjugation of the word let. For example:
“He’s a lot smarter than he lets on”, Sammy said to HR apologetically, as they observe Dave jiggle his belly in the board room again.
This judge lets high-powered officials get off the hook with impunity, so maybe you should target that guy instead of low-level crooks, Batman.
The fact that she lets you use the bathroom when she’s showering should tell you that she loves you, Charles.
We’re in trouble because James lets his bills accumulate without paying them. Now, he has no legs and I’m out twenty grand.
Mel wasn’t the type of person who just lets things go; her vengeance shall be swift, cruel, and righteous, so think twice before dipping your hands in her popcorn again.
When to Use Let’s
The word Let’s (with an apostrophe) is a contraction of the words “let” and “us”. This is used to shorten those two words into a single word. For example:
“Hold on, Greg, let’s try to fix this guy’s car before going to lunch” Charles said, as they both gazed at the smoldering wreck that was once their client’s car.
“Let’s go!” Jimmy pleaded, “The Gingerbread Man might catch us!” But his friends just shrugged it off, not realizing the shadow of the Gingerbread Man looming over them.
Since we’re stuck in the Grand Canyon, let’s make the best of a bad situation and just try to enjoy ourselves. Now, hand me that bone saw when you’re done, I want to get this broken leg sorted out so I can watch the sunset.
Hey kids, let’s play a game called ‘Do Your Homework or You Don’t Get to Eat Tonight’! Who wants to start?!
If we really had to choose, I say let’s visit grandma first BEFORE going to the asbestos factory.
Which One to Use: Lets or Let’s
Always remember: if you’re using the word let as a conjugation, then use Let but leave the apostrophe. If you want to shorten the words “Let” and “Us”, then use let’s with an apostrophe.