let off: meaning and explanation

to let someone off = to allow someone to escape without punishment (or without full punishment) when they have done something wrong.

For example, imagine one of your employees makes a big mistake and loses a client. This is serious – normally you would give the employee a warning or even fire them. However, you know that the employee has been having problems at home, and you want to give him another chance. You decide to let him off – you don’t punish him.

If you use the phrasal verb on its own (e.g. I was late for work 5 times in a row, but my boss let me off), then you are saying that the person avoided punishment completely.

If they were given a smaller or reduced punishment, then you can specify this using ‘to let sb off with sth…’. e.g. Because it was his first offence, the judge decided not to send the teenage car thief to prison, and let him off off with a fine.

This phrasal verb can also be used as a noun: a let off. This communicates the idea of something being a lucky escape. e.g. Arsenal were very lucky not to lose that game. It was a real let off for them.

Have a go at this dictation exercise to hear this phrasal verb being used in context – how much can you understand?

Dictation #1

Accent: Ireland

speeding but the police with a .
I caught speeding but some reason the police me off with a .

…for some reason the police let me off

For some reason is a useful phrase to use when we are unable to explain something. e.g. The conference was cancelled but for some reason they didn’t tell me.

Discussion questions

Write your answers to these questions in the comments section, and I’ll get back to you with some feedback:

  • Have you ever done something wrong but not been punished (or given a smaller punishment than you expected)?
  • When was the last time you let somebody off?

Photo by Andrew Ly on Unsplash

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