Must the verb that follow let always be an infinitive regardless of the context, even in a reported speech? For example,

He told us to let him saw her one last time.

Is that correct?

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    No, it's not correct. Let followed by a noun phrase takes an infinitive. Past tense verbs like saw are only used in tensed clauses with nominative subjects (not him). There is an infinitive saw meaning to use a saw on something (or in the case of the example sentence, someone). This is probably not what you want to say. Jan 28, 2019 at 2:47
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    @JohnLawler it could be a retiring magician who's feeling nostalgic. ;) Jan 28, 2019 at 2:53
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    If let were a modal, you couldn't make a to-infinitive out of it the way you just did. Modals are defective.
    – tchrist
    Jan 28, 2019 at 4:10
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    So, no, let isn't a modal auxiliary verb. But you're not totally wrong; it does have modal senses. Let occurs in many of the same kind of constructions that shall does: Let us/Let's dance means the same thing as Shall we dance?, and could be used in most of the same contexts with the same pragmatic intent. And the singular works the same way: Let me open the window = Shall I open the window? The modal auxiliary shall is largely restricted to those constructions in American English, and clearly let has some senses that govern deontic modality. Jan 28, 2019 at 16:30
  • to let means to allow in your sentence.
    – Lambie
    Jan 30, 2019 at 17:43

2 Answers 2


TO LET is not a modal verb. It is different from them semantically and formally.

  1. "Modality is about a speaker’s or a writer’s attitude towards the world.

A speaker or writer can express certainty, possibility, willingness, obligation, necessity and ability by using modal words and expressions.

Speakers often have different opinions about the same thing.

Modal verbs

Here are the main verbs we use to express modal meanings:

Core modal verbs:  can, could, may, might, will, shall, would, should, must.

Semi-modals:  dare, need, ought to, used to.

Other verbs with modal meanings:  have (got) to, be going to and be able to." (https://dictionary.cambridge.org/grammar/british-grammar/modals-and-modality/modality-introduction)

TO LET is an action verb. It means 'to allow'. It is also used as a polite way of making or responding to a suggestion, giving an instruction, or introducing a remark.

  1. The forms of TO LET are also different from modals. It has the Infinitive, the Finite forms, can be in the Imperative Mood, is often used with modals. For example (https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/):

// Could you let the dog out?

// Let's have a drink!

// They've let out their house.

// A tiny window that let in hardly any light.


"Let's have a drink" is definitely of the hortative mood.

to say "let's do..." in Spanish you use the imperative mood, which as in many languages also covers hortative modality. NB. I'm a native english speaker

"Let me do this" is imperative but that's just the imperative form of let. This isn't "let" as a kind of modal verb itself.

Other uses of "let" are simply synonymous with "allow" or "permit" and work the same as them in indicative constructions.

I think let also used to be a modal subjunctive verb in older English, ie. "Let God bless you". "let them eat cake" might also be a jussive (but im not sure on that last bit)

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