Word of the Day


© Getty Images/Image Source
Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter


in tennis, a service that hits the net and must be played again

(British) a period of time in which a house or flat is rented to someone

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

Origin and usage

The noun let was first used in the late 19th century to refer to a service ball that hits the top of the net in racket sports. The second (British) meaning above derives from a different root, the verb ‘to let‘ meaning to rent out and is first definitively attested in the novel ‘Nicholas Nickleby’ by Charles Dickens, published in 1839.


A let in tennis is a serve in which the ball clips the top of the net before going over into the correct part of the opponent’s court and has to be replayed because the impediment weakens its force.  The other common use of let is in the legal phrase ‘without let or hindrance‘. Both meanings are derived from the obsolete verb ‘let’ meaning to hinder. A let is often a hair’s breadth away from an ace, a serve so powerful that the receiver is unable to return it: the reason the ball hits the net cord is because it is aimed so low over it. Lets are more likely to occur on first serves, because second serves tend to be more cautious and therefore not as fast and low.


” If in doubt play a let.

“Her Britannic Majesty’s Secretary of State Requests and requires in the Name of Her Majesty all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance, and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary.”
(Wording in the front of the UK passport)

Related words

advantage, break point, deuce, double fault

Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.

About the author

Liz Potter

Liz Potter

Leave a Comment