Let it be

There are several small and versatile words that are widely used by mother-tongue English authors but hardly ever turn up in non-native texts. The one that’s missed most often is let.

There are three main uses for let: giving permission or authorization (They let me speak), not obstructing (They let me through) and as an imperative (Let me go!).
The first in particular are neglected by Dutch writers in favour of wordier expressions involving allow, enable, permit and similar. When I’ve got my editing hat on, those three words are all red flags that let should be considered.

  • 3D printing will allow us to boost performance => will let us
  • The pores permit water to pass => let water through
  • Our system enables quick responses => lets us respond quickly
  • It also turns up a lot where the “enabling” aspect is implied rather than stated, for instance with a “by + …ing”:
    By bonding to this protein, the antibody can… =>
    Bonding to this protein lets the antibody…
    (There’s already been a separate post on that!)

The word let is even more common in speech, but that doesn’t mean it should be avoided in writing.

Prevalence: endemic. Partly due to people feeling incorrectly that it’s too informal, but I suspect largely because it’s not in the mindset.
Frequency: endemic. Turns up all over the place.
Native: no. Although we sometimes miss that it should have been used when translating a bit too literally.

Published by Mike Wilkinson

Twenty years of translating and editing Dutch into English, as well as writing and publishing in English.

One thought on “Let it be

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