Me: Perhaps we need to make a left turn at Albuquerque
Him: Let us try that

Now I would have said, "Let's try that". "Let us" sounds wrong to me in this instance. Is it? Are there contractions which are improper to use in their full form? I've always thought that in formal writing contractions are avoided. Are there any contractions that should be used even in formal writing?


Let us in your example only sounds wrong to you because it is very rarely used in that context. It is, however, correct.

One might furthermore argue that any in situation in which let us would be incorrect, let's, its contraction, would also be incorrect. (A contraction should only be used where its umm... anticontraction would also be correct.)

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    counteraxample: “Didn’t you know?” is grammatical, but “Did not you know?” is not. – nohat May 27 '11 at 18:12
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    @nohat granted. I guess I wasn't thinking about the possibility of word order, as "Didn't you know?" is a contraction of "Did you not know?" rather than "Did not you know?" – snumpy May 27 '11 at 18:30
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    It's important to keep in mind because although there is definitely a relationship between contractions and uncontracted forms, they are not always 100% substitutable—they have slightly different rules around their use. – nohat May 27 '11 at 19:38

In your example of casual conversation, I would say "let's". But in other conversations I would prefer "let us", e.g. "let us now turn to (such-and-such example)" in a classroom. To me "let's" is folksy and informal, which is often what you want, and "let us" is more formal.

  • Agreed. In this situation, the less formal form is so prevalent that the formal form sounds foreign and incorrect by comparison. I'm never totally sure whether that's a sign of language evolution or erosion. – ajk May 27 '11 at 18:38

It's a piece of dialect which I don't believe is grammatical in standard English, even though it was used by Somerset Maugham (in Of Human Bondage), but consider "don't let's".

Don't let's go to the dogs tonight.

does not mean

Do not let us go to the dogs tonight.


Let us not go to the dogs tonight.


Using let's is a lot like saying allow us to.

Me: Perhaps we need to make a left turn at Albuquerque
Him: Allow us to try that.

With that in mind, I can't think of a single situation where using the full form of any contraction is invalid.

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