Tools

Make me do it, or let me do it?

Nigel Caplan

In this article, Nigel Caplan explores the big meaning differences between two little words — make and let.

The verbs make and let are tricky to learn: They are both followed by the base form of the verb (the infinitive without to), so they look similar but have very different meanings:

  Affirmative Negative
make The teacher made us write out the new words.

require, force

The teacher does not make us do homework on the weekend.

not require

let The teacher lets us listen to music in class.

allow, permit

The teacher does not let us eat in class.

not allow, forbid

In addition, make can be used with an adjective as an object complement; you do not need the verb be:

Singing makes me [←] happy. (NOT: Singing makes me be happy.)

The newspaper article made many people [←] angry.

The traffic jam made me [←] late for class.

 

Remember not to use to with the verb after make or let:

The school lets students to bring their own lunch.

A good way to remember the difference between let and make is to try the sentence with a modal verb:

  Affirmative Negative
make The teacher made us write out the new words.

=We must write out the new words.

The teacher does not make us do homework on the weekend.

= We don’t have to do homework.

let The teacher lets us listen to music in class.

=We can listen to music.

The teacher does not let us eat in class.

= We cannot/may not eat in class.

Finally, note that both let and make are irregular verbs:

  let make
present let, lets make, makes
simple past let made
present perfect has/have let has/have made

This downloadable worksheet will give your students practice using let and make.

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