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I was reading a book today and I got confused by the sentence 'Don't let's wait.'

Don't let's wait?

Is it correct to say this? I have seen sentences like:

Let's wait.

... and I found lots of results for:

Let's not wait.

... on Google. This question here asks about sentences like:

Let's don't wait.

Niklon's answer there says that this sentence is not grammatical because it has both let's and don't together. So does this means that that the main example here is ungrammatical?

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So here I will talk about this three constructions -

Let's not wait.

Don't let's wait.

and

Let's don't wait.


The contraction form of let us in imperative use is let's. But if we say only this about let's we will miss out on many more.

Because often you will find following constructions -

  • Let's us wait till Tuesday.

The use of us there is redundant. We not only find objective case after after let's, at time we find subjective cases also, like the followings -

  • Let's you and I wait till Tuesday.
  • Let's you and me wait till Tuesday.

These are as redundant as us. Obvious question comes when such redundancy is allowed or whether they are at all correct. As long as it's in casual informal situation, or in speech where it's seen as mistaken repetition of the pronoun that is already present in the contraction, it's okay. But overall such usage is generally criticized as redundant especially by earlier commentators. It is however to be noted that Quirk et al. 1985 characterizes let's us as "familiar American English".

The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (CGEL) says that the use of let's you and I/me ... is so common that it qualifies as acceptable informal style in Standard English.

CGEL page 935 -

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But generally the subjective case of pronoun after let is not standard, but still there are examples where we can find such usage -

  • Let we [1485 lete vs] hold us together till it be day. - 1634 Malory's Arthur

We can't conclude that it's older usage. Here is a much modern example compared to the one above -

  • ... a restaurant in Queen Street way we cud get good dhal pourri and chicken curry, let we go. - Samuel Selvon, A Brighter Sun, 1952

Then there are examples like this -

  • Let fortune go to hell for it, not I - Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, 1957
  • Let he who made thee answer that - Lord Byron, Cain, 1821

Jespersen says that the last sentence allowed he because of the relative clause and who. In the relative clause the subject is represented by who, and in turn it's he. But the later editors changed he to him. Notwithstanding the construction persists in Modern English. Let's check the comic-strip paraphrase of famous passage (John 8:7) of the King James Bible:

  • Let he who is without sin cast the first stone - Joe Martin, "Mister Boffo", 25 Oct. 1986

Jespersen further says that the reason why there is subjective case rather than an objective case in those sentences is because the pronoun after let is perceived as the subject of the following infinitive, rather than the object of let. He calls it Notional or Virtual Subject.

The Oxford English Dictionary, however, calls such occurrence of subjective case incorrect.

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By the 20th century let's is frequently treated as a unit, rather than as a contraction, and then the pronoun follows.


The negative of let's is formed in three ways -

let's not ... -> widely used
don't let's ... -> mainly in British English
let's don't ... -> chiefly in American English

Examples -

  • In all events, let's don't celebrate it until it has done something - Alexander Woollcott, letter, 26 Jan. 1918
  • But don't let's harp on it.

The Columbia Guide to Standard American English by Kenneth George Wilson -

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The Qualls Concise English Grammar by Eduard J. Qualls -

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Encyclopedic Graded Grammar Vol 2 -

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The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language -

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References -

  1. The Cambridge Grammar of English Language by Huddleston & Pullum 2002
  2. A Comprehensive Grammar of English Language by Quirk et al. 1985
  3. Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage
  4. Fowler's Modern English Usage
  5. The Columbia Guide to Standard American English by Kenneth George Wilson
  6. The Qualls Concise English Grammar by Eduard J. Qualls
  7. Encyclopedic Graded Grammar Vol 2
  8. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED)
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    An impressive list of references! :-) – snailboat Mar 12 '16 at 21:54
  • Most of the British examples in 'The Encyclopedic Graded Grammar Vol 2' are either dated or wrong, for example "Do come to us in summer vacation". – JavaLatte Mar 15 '16 at 19:41
  • @JavaLatte I had no idea. Anyway what is the current equivalent? – Man_From_India Mar 16 '16 at 16:37
  • "Do come and see us in the summer holidays" or "Do visit us in the summer holidays". It would be more up to date to say "You must" or "you simply must" in place of "do": in this context if is considered polite rather than an instruction. Vacation is the American term for a holiday (english.stackexchange.com/questions/31166/…). For the others, "I have got some books", "We don't have much time" and "Have you got enough money". – JavaLatte Mar 16 '16 at 17:54
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Here is a summary of what I know about the expression "Don't let's"

  • it is a grammatically correct, informal contraction of "Do not let us".
  • it was widely used in the inter-war period (1920 to 1940) when even working class people still knew about grammar, but had escaped from the strait jacket of Victorian formality.
  • many people regard it as an inelegant construction, and in this post-grammar-savvy era such expressions tend to fall by the wayside.
  • In the UK, it remains a convenient and neutral way of expressing the idea that both parties are responsible for avoiding something unpleasant, for example "Don't let's start that again" and "Don't let's fight".
  • The American alt-rock band "They might be giants" released a single called "Don't let's start" in 1987, which inspired a film (date unknown). There was also a 2014 episode of "Grey's Anatomy" with the same name. This suggests that the expression is still understood in the US.

Moving on to "Let's don't":

  • it is a contraction of "Let us do not" which is grammatically incorrect because "Do" or "Do not" must appear at the start of a sentence when used as an imperative.
  • George 'Dubya' Bush, that paragon of correct speech, is credited with 30% of the (very very small number of) usages of this expression.
  • the remaining usages come from the southern states of the US.

And finally, "Let's not":

  • it is a grammatically correct informal contraction of "let us not".
  • it is used twice in the Bible and once by Shakespeare.
  • in the UK, it is regularly used in expressions which advise caution, like "Let's not get carried away with this", "Let's not be too hasty", "Let's not go overboard in this" and "let's not go to far".
    • the US singers Monica and Tyrese recorded a song entitled "Let's not go to bed" in 2003. Andrea Perry recorded a song called "Let's not go out tonight" in 2006. This suggests that the expression is still current in the US.
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I believe that the answer lies in how sentences are contracted.

  • Let's go : Let us go.
  • Don't let go : Do not let go.

from this, the sentence "Don't let's.." becomes:

Do not let us..

All though the expanded version that phrase sounds grammatical, the contracted form sounds grammatically incorrect. All though it sounds like a bad error, it is not. However, this isn't something that is widely used. In fact, I've never seen this being used until you posted this question.

So if this is completely an alien topic for me, how can I help you? Frankly, I'm not sure I can. But I did a little digging up on this and I've come to realize that this isn't incorrect. However, this is considered to be highly informal. Why? Simple.

Words such as "don't", _"can't", "let's" etc, are mostly used in informal contexts. Now when you're contracting words for the ease of use, you tend to oversee the grammatical mistakes when two contractions are combined. The truth is that there is not mistake, but it sounds wrong. That is the problem with the over usage on contracted words.

These are a few places you could go and look into this odd usage of words:

To sum it up, those type of contracted sentences are not wrong, but they are hardly used and are considered as highly informal. The beauty in learning a language is to reach a point where you can convey something without any ambiguity or confusion. Truth be told, like every language, English has many weird usages, perhaps even more than most languages.

PS: I would advice you to never use these phrases as the listener will either get utterly confused or might assume you;re just very poor at grammar.

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"Don't let's" is "Do not let us" in contraction form. However, it was acceptable at one time to say it as such, it is no longer considered good grammar. Just because two words spoken together can form a contraction, doesn't mean you should do so.

I've heard it spoken this way in a few movies and even have read in a book or two, but it's usually because the time setting is supposed to be during a time period where that was acceptable, or maybe its based in Britain. lol.

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