In Oxford Dictionaries, there is an entry:

Water the plant regularly, never letting the soil dry out.

I don't understand why it is letting. Is let incorrect here? If yes, then why?

  • A thought-provoking question (+1). I guess, it's because 'letting' here is used to denote 'ongoing' process. Watering plants will keep soil moist all the time. Using 'let' may limit it to one event..maybe...not sure...that's why writing this as a comment and not an answer! :)
    – Maulik V
    Sep 7, 2018 at 6:59
  • 1
    If 'let' is used, then it should be written as: Water the plant regularly, and never let the soil dry out. letting the soil dry out is a present participle phrase. It denotes the sense "so as to" in this context in my opinion. It can be paraphrased as: Water the plant regularly, so as not to let the soil dry out. I'm not a native speaker, so it's just Fyi. :)
    – dan
    Sep 7, 2018 at 7:07
  • Rather I read this as, "Water the plant regularly, never allowing the soil to dry out." As in, as a consequence of watering the plant regularly, the result is that the soil can never be allowed to be dry. I don't honestly see why let would be incorrect here.
    – Neil
    Sep 7, 2018 at 7:38
  • @Neil - Well, if it were written with let, it would be a (very minor, IMHO) comma splice, since "never let the soil dry out" is a standalone sentence by itself.
    – stangdon
    Sep 7, 2018 at 12:04

2 Answers 2


let by itself isn't isn't incorrect (with an "and" between the two parts of the sentence):

Water the plants regularly and never let the soil dry out.

In your case it doesn't change the meaning much, but overall the use of the progressive tense establishes a relationship between the two parts, while "and" makes them more independent. Compare:

He liked to walk slowly to work, eating sandwiches.

He liked to walk slowly to work and eat sandwiches.

The first sentence implies a temporal relationship - he liked to eat sandwiches specifically on his way to work. The second doesn't have that implication - it just lists two things he liked.


Water the plant regularly, never letting the soil dry out.

Normal sentences and clauses require the full S-V-O pattern to be filled or assumed.

"Never letting the soil dry out" isn't a full clause, but is an incomplete phrase that answers the question "how is the plant watered." (Words and phrases that answer the question how are usually adverbs/adverbial - it's not a full clause because letting doesn't have a subject).

Because it's an adverb and not a standalone clause/sentence, we don't use a "real" verb, but a verbal. So the "present participle" (participles are one of various types of verbals) version of let appears here - letting.

This is an example of an interesting property of English where phrases with verbals can act as modifiers to other words or phrases.

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