Don't let's

James Harbeck jharbeck at SYMPATICO.CA
Thu Jan 17 04:19:20 UTC 2008

>Why is "don't" an infinitive?

No, the "let's" in "don't let's" has the infinitive: in "do not let
us," "let" is an infinitive. Sorry for my lack of clarity there.

>   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

A contraction of an infinitive. That's my main hunch about why it
feels odd. Remember that I said I don't find it ungrammatical, just
that it seems odd to me. And I think it seems odd for the reasons I
gave. Your dialect can be different from mine and you can be used to
different things. I'm not talking right and wrong, just what is and
isn't famliiar to me.

>  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.

No, I wasn't arguing that one made more sense in any absolute
analytical way (I am aware that some others here seem to have taken a
position closer to that -- they may want to step in here if they
wish). The observation that "don't let's" was exceptional to me was
input data, not output conclusion. "Don't let's" sounds a bit off to
me, even though it has no prima facie reason to, and I'm just looking
at features of the usage patterns I'm used to that would explain why.
Introspection -- just lighting up a nice little fire in my wooden
stove, don't mind!

"Let's don't" sounds even odder to me, probably because "do" before
"not" when already preceded by an auxiliary is surperfluous, even
pleonastic, in the version of English I'm used to. But obviously
other people have other versions. Fortunately, nobody is making
official versions about which can be included in _the_ English
language or who gets credit for inventing it.

James Harbeck.

The American Dialect Society -

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