The Meaning of Let Alone: What It Is and How To Use It

This guide will present you with all of the necessary information on the phrase let alone, including its definition, usage, origin, sentence examples, and more!

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What does the English language phrase let alone mean?

According to Merriam-Webster English Dictionary, the definition of let alone is similar to the phrase “not to mention.” It means “to say nothing of,” and is usually used to emphasize some event or action’s improbability in contrast to another example. While some may classify this as an adverb or as part of a number of phrasal verbs, Merriam-Webster states that is a conjunction.

Your Dictionary and other dictionary apps state that a conjunction is a word that connects phrases and clauses together. There are coordinating conjunctions, which connect words, phrases, and independent clauses. There are also subordinating conjunctions, which introduce a dependent clause onto a participle. Finally there are correlative conjunctions, which come in pairs and must be used together. The phrase “let alone” is considered a coordinating conjunction because it connects words, phrases, and independent clauses.

The phrase let alone is often used in the following format: “[Person] could not even do [easy task], let alone [difficult task.]” The phrase is used to present contrasting examples of two things that someone is usually incapable of being or achieving.

What is the origin of the phrase let alone?

Merriam-Webster states that the first known usage of the phrase let alone was in 1765. Etymonline states that the phrase “let alone,” used to mean “abstain from interfering with” comes from Old English. In 1812, it began to take on the meaning “not to mention” or “to say nothing of.

Other languages also have similar phrases to the English phrase “let alone.” In German, one could say “geschweige denn,” according to Linguee. This phrase can be used to mean “let alone,” “much less,” “never mind,” or any other synonym of the phrase “let alone.” In Spanish, there are a few different phrases that can be used to mean “let alone.” According to Spanish Dict, these include “sin hablar de,” “ni mucho menos,” “menos aún,” and “y mucho menos.” Linguee also states that in Portuguese, one can say “muito menos,” and Cambridge Dictionary states that the phrase is said as “apalagi” in Indonesian.

What are synonyms and antonyms for the phrase let alone?

According to Word Hippo and Merriam-Webster Thesaurus, there are numerous different phrases one can use in place of the phrase “let alone.” People often use synonyms either to avoid repeating themselves, to build their vocabulary, or to use a different phrase that sounds better in the context they are using it.

  • Not to mention
  • Much less
  • Never mind
  • Still less
  • To say nothing of

Antonyms are phrases and words that mean the opposite of a given word or phrase. Below are numerous antonyms for the phrase let alone. These phrases from Thesaurus all have similar meanings to “and also,” which would be the opposite of let alone.

  • And also
  • Along with
  • Additionally
  • Too
  • More
  • Likewise
  • Further
  • Along with
  • As well as
  • Conjointly
  • Furthermore
  • In conjunction with
  • In like manner
  • Including
  • Moreover
  • On top of
  • Over and above
  • In addition to
  • Plus
  • To boot
  • Together with
  • Withal

How can the phrase let alone be used in a sentence?

There are numerous different ways one can use the phrase let alone. This is a very common phrase and is frequently heard both in speech as well as in text. In this first example, Nita is trying to figure out how to use a new system at her work. A coworker who is also struggling to learn the new software comes to ask her a question.

Jane: Hey Nita, I was trying to figure out how to do an advanced search on the new software. Do you happen to know?

Nita: Jane, I don’t even know how to log out of this software, let alone run an advanced search in it.

Jane: We are doomed!

Here, Nita uses the phrase let alone to tell Jane that she knows not even the basics about the given software, much less how to perform advanced functions in it. In this next example, Wanda’s friend Ty approached her about a potential nannying job.

Wanda: I’m not sure nannying is really my thing.

Ty: Oh come on, you’re great with kids! There are four of them – a two-year-old, a six-year-old, a nine-year-old, and a twelve-year-old.

Wanda: Ty, I barely know how to take care of myself, a twenty-two-year-old, let alone an entire family!

Ty: You’re not giving yourself enough credit!

Here, Wanda uses the phrase let alone to show that she would not be a good fit for the nannying job. In the last example, David just finished meeting with a new lawyer. His secretary asks him about the interview.

Carl: Hey David, how did the interview go?

David: I wouldn’t trust him to park my car, let alone be my lawyer. I don’t think that man has ever set foot in a law school.

Carl: Yikes.

Overall, the phrase let alone is a conjunction that is used to emphasize an action or event’s improbability by contrasting it to an even less likely event or action. This is similar to the phrases “not to mention,” “much less,” and “never mind.” This is considered a polite phrase, and can be used in any context, including casual, professional, and formal.

Sources:

  1. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/let%20alone
  2. https://grammar.yourdictionary.com/parts-of-speech/conjunctions/what-is-a-conjunction.html
  3. https://www.linguee.com/german-english/translation/geschweige+denn.html
  4. https://www.spanishdict.com/answers/128548/how-do-you-translate-the-expression-let-alone-
  5. https://www.linguee.com/english-portuguese/translation/let+alone.html
  6. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english-indonesian/let-alone
  7. https://www.etymonline.com/word/let#:~:text=Old%20English%20l%C3%A6tan%20(Northumbrian%20leta,Dutch%20laten%2C%20Old%20High%20German
  8. https://www.wordhippo.com/what-is/another-word-for/let_alone.html
  9. https://www.merriam-webster.com/thesaurus/let%20alone
  10. https://www.thesaurus.com/browse/also