'Let's Go!' Is Not the Same as 'Let Us Go!'

Linguist Neal Whitman explains why Let us go and Let's go have different meanings.

Neal Whitman, read by Mignon Fogarty,
Episode #472

A Special Marker

All these differences between ordinary imperatives and first-person inclusive let-imperatives show just how much it has become specialized. Rodney Huddleston and Geoff Pullum, the authors of CGEL, even argue that it’s so specialized now that it shouldn’t even be analyzed as an imperative anymore. They argue that we should think of let’s as a special marker that introduces a first-person imperative. One piece of evidence they cite has to do with first-person inclusive let-imperatives that put in an explicit subject between the let’s and the verb, as in Let’s you and me go to the mall. Some speakers would say it this way: Let’s you and I go to the mall. The subjective pronoun I, the linguists argue, shows that these speakers don’t think of the noun phrase you and I as the object of let anymore, and are treating it as the subject of go. I don’t find this argument convincing, because it’s also well-known that many speakers routinely use I instead of me when they coordinate it with another pronoun, because they consider it to be more formal or polite. Just think of all the confusion over the phrase between you and me, which is the standard version, and between you and I.

Thanks to Aaron for pointing to an interesting topic. I don’t know about the rest of you, but talking about this is making me hungry, maybe for a nice bacon-let’s-and-tomato sandwich!  

This article was written by Neal Whitman, who has a PhD in linguistics and blogs at literalminded.wordpress.com.

Let's go image courtesy of Shutterstock


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