Don't let's

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Thu Jan 17 04:00:49 UTC 2008

At 10:22 PM -0500 1/16/08, James Harbeck wrote:
>I first saw "don't let's" in an Asterix comic when I was a kid. I
>thought it was a bit odd but I understood it and accepted it. I'm not
>used to hearing it in real life, though. "Do not let us" is
>persuasively grammatical, but the pattern of contraction is
>exceptional to me, as I'm used to "don't" and "let's" as separate
>largely unanalyzed auxiliaries, and stacking them together has a sort
>of "shouldn't might" feel -- that is, I don't automatically process
>"don't let's" as "do not let us" but rather as particles signifying a
>negative command and a positive command. Also, "let's" is normally a
>contraction of an imperative and a pronoun, but in "don't let's" it's
>an infinitive and a pronoun, and we're not normally in the habit of
>contracting infinitives, are we? I might have missed this in my quick
>reading of the copious daily emails -- Benjamin Barrett, have you
>already made this point about contractions being temporal?
Why should "don't let's" be such a different kettle of fish from
"let's not"--or, for that matter, "let's don't", which also occurs?
It's the same "let's", irreducible in each case to the true
imperative "let us" but instead functioning as a marker of
suggestion/invitation (unanalyzed, as you say).  The "don't" is a
negative marker used in imperatives.  So "don't let's" and "let's
don't" mark negative pseudo-imperative, a suggestion not to do
something.  I'm not sure I understand the bit about not contracting
infinitives.  Why is "don't" an infinitive?  Why is "don't let's go"
all that different from the presumably unexceptional "don't go" other
than that the former includes the suggestion particle "let's" for the
1st person plural while the latter is a simple negative imperative
for the second person?  I grant that some speakers can say (or are
familiar with others saying) "Don't let's X", others "Let's don't X",
and still others only "Let's not X", but I'm not sure I see the point
in arguing that one of these makes more sense than the others.


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