To let something happen and to make something happen are synonyms. They mean something similar, but the implications of the words – what they seem to mean in an indirect way – are an importance difference.
For both words, the meaning is that you are the cause of something that happens. For example, if your child learned to play the piano, you could either let it happen or make it happen. The thing to note is this: whether you did something or did nothing while the event happened. To clarify, consider the difference between these two sentences:
- He let the large pile of books fall all over the floor.
- He made the large pile of books fall all over the floor.
The meaning of what the boy did is extremely different. If he let the large pile of books fall all over the floor, it means that the books would probably have fallen over the floor by themselves. However, the boy in this sentence did nothing to stop them from falling. He was sitting back and just watched as something bad happened.
The other sentence has a completely different meaning. If the boy made the large pile of books fall all over the floor, it means that he directly caused it. The books probably would not have tipped over by themselves. It was only because the boy pushed them, ran into them, or did something that led to the falling of the book pile.
In both cases, the boy has responsibility for what happened. It might not be entirely his fault, but he plays a role in both sentences.
However, it seems that his responsibility is probably higher if he made the books fall over than if he let them fall over. This is because making something happen means that you initiate it. Letting something happen means that you don’t initiate it, but you allow it to happen even when you have the power to stop it.
This is an important difference when it comes to something like parenting:
- Jane makes her daughter play piano, take dance lessons, learn Spanish and Chinese, and play volleyball.
- Jane lets her daughter play piano, take dance lessons, learn Spanish and Chinese, and play volleyball.
While the first sentence implies that Jane is a Tiger Mom, the second one does not. The first sentence means that Jane is forcing her daughter to do all these activities. The second sentence means that her daughter wants to do all these activities by herself. Even though they sound like a lot, Jane lets her daughter do them.
Depending on how each word is used there are a few differences between ‘let’ and ‘make’, the most important difference is that ‘let’ gives somebody permission to do something whereas ‘make’ usually forces somebody to do something.
- The teacher let her students throw a party at the end of term but once the party was over she made them clean up the classroom.
- The store manager made two of his employees work overtime because he let one of his other employees leave work early due to a family emergency.
Let’s see the other ways we can use these two words, we’ll focus on ‘make’ first. When we make somebody do something, like clean their room, complete an assignment or work overtime, we’re usually forcing them to do something that they don’t really want to do or would rather not do it.
‘Make’ can also mean that something causes somebody to do something. Such as jokes which can make people laugh or upcoming deadlines that can make people work more efficiently.
- The birthday cake was so delicious, the group of friends ate it all at once. Unfortunately, this made some of them feel really sick.
- The movie made the woman cry as it was so emotional and she could relate to the main character in so many ways.
On the other hand, ‘let’ is used to give permission to somebody to do something. For example, when we let somebody do something, like borrow their car, go home from work early or have the last slice of cake, we’re allowing them to do something that they need or want.
This isn’t the only use of ‘let’ though. We can use ‘let’s’ to suggest something like going to the restaurant or reviewing a performance report.
- “Let’s look at the next example and see if it helps you to understand the grammar rule better” the English teacher recommended her students.
- The realtor could tell that his clients weren’t impressed with the first property so he said to them “let’s check out the next property”. His clients were pleased with his suggestion.
We can also use ‘let’ when we want to say that something became a possibility.
- The decision to move the company to a bigger location, let each of the managers have their own spacious office.
- The new smartphone application lets drivers pay for parking from their phone rather than paying a pay and display machine, which can be inconvenient for people if they don’t have enough coins or are far away from the machine.