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Let Alone

-- ManfredSailer -- 17 Mar 2009

1. General

1.1. Label

Let alone Construction

1.2. Reasons for construction status

(reasons for constructional status)

The expression let alone shares properties with other construction types and lexical items. At the same time let alone possesses a collection of properties that is unique to this particular idiom, it can be seen as a formal idiom or a special construction. The following information is all taken from the article ‘Regularity and Idiomaticity in Grammatical Constructions: The case of Let alone by Fillmore, Kay and O’Connor.

1.3. Examples

1. He didn’t make colonel, let alone general.

2. Max won’t eat shrimp, let alone squid.

3. A poor man, let alone a rich man, wouldn’t wash your car for $2, let alone wax your truck for $1.


1. Ich würde niemals Bier trinken, geschweige denn Whiskey

2. Max würde keine Krabben essen, von Tintenfisch ganz zu schweigen.

2. Language Information


Spoken and written English

2.2. Language


2.3. Variety

(to be filled out if the construction belongs to a particular geographic, social, situational, or stylistic variety or to a particular genre)

The construction occurs in British English and American English.

2.4. Speech Community

(to be filled out if the construction is used in a particular speech community)

No particular speech community.

2.5. Language Contact

(to be filled out if the construction influenced by constructions from another languages)

The development of the construction does not seem to have been influenced or triggered directly by a similar construction from a different language.

2.6. Time Period

(time period of construction)

2.7. Stage of Acquisition

(comments on age and circumstances of the acquisition)

3. Form

3.1. Syntax


(general comments on the syntactic properties of the construction)

From a syntactic point of view let alone is a kind of conjunction and sentences containing let alone are PAIRED FOCUS CONSTRUCTIONS in which the part following let alone is a particular type of sentence fragment. Furthermore, let alone is a negative polarity item. Most of the let alone sentences can be analyzed as a syntactic structure of the following types:

‘F < X A Y let alone B >

‘I doubt you could get Fred to eat squid, let alone Louise’

F < X A let alone B Y >

‘I doubt you could get Fred, let alone Louise, to eat squid’

A and B are coordinated, prosodically focused, and contrasting constituents. X and Y are the neighbouring , non-contrasting parts of the clause in which the coordination occurs. The type of the coordination is that by which the phrase let alone B is seen as parenthetical. [..] let alone appears to be a negative polarity item, and F at this point can be loosely designated as a negative polarity trigger which has the rest of the sentence in its scope.’ (Fillmore, 1988, p.512)

3.1.2. Internal Valency

(information on valency relationships inside the construction)

No valency relationships inside the construction Constituency

(description of the constituent relationships inside the construction)

No constituency inside the construction On the one hand the let alone construction has no obvious constituency but on the other hand let alone is always preceded by a main clause and followed by either another main clause or a fragmented main clause (down to a single noun which is also an NP). Therefore, I will briefly describe the earlier mentioned syntactic characteristics of the let alone construction.

Let alone as a coordinate conjunction.

Let alone ‘pairs two grammatically equivalent constituents’(Fillmore, 1988, p.514). These conjuncts include at least two paired foci which make the important difference between the two sentences. Although the let alone construction bears many properties associated with coordinating conjunctions (join like categories, permit right node raising, gapping, stripping, conjunction reduction etc.) it also features properties which are not found in a proper coordinate conjunction (the sequence A let alone B is not a constituent, It-clefting is possible, VP ellipsis is not possible etc.)

Let alone as a Paired Focus Construction.

‘He doesn’t get up for Lunch, let alone Breakfast’(Fillmore, 1988, p.517) Sentences like this contain ‘a complete clause, followed by a connective of some sort, followed by a fragment. The fragment bears a certain relationship to some part of what we have called the context sentence. […]All of these constructions allow the speaker (1) to make an assertion or contradict some proposition implied or asserted by another speaker, by focussing on a particular constituent of that proposition; and (2) to reset the value of that constituent, as it were.’(Fillmore, 1988, p.517)

Sentence Fragments and the Complement of let alone

‘When the F element is external to the < X A Y > clause, a tensed or negated element may appear in the fragment since the INFL-Complex/F-element principle is, so to speak, already satisfied.’ (Fillmore, 1988, p.518) Consider the following sentence: ‘I doubt the party criticized him at all, let alone told him not to run for office.‘ (Fillmore, 1988, p.518)

Let alone as a negative polarity item

Let alone is not a simple and straightforward negative polarity item. Consider the following sentences:

(A) ‘I doubt I have enough material here for a week.

(B) You’ve got enough material there for a whole semester, let alone a week’ (Fillmore, 1988, p.519)

‘[..] the fragments of the let alone sentence uttered by B is the denial of the context sentence uttered just previously by A. [..] the speaker B offers as the contextually relevant part of his let alone response the negation of the context sentence. It appears that, given the strong pragmatic requirement of the let alone construction for a context sentence, for some speakers at least the denial of the context sentence has enough negative affect to serve as a polarity trigger for let alone.’ (Fillmore, 1988, p.519)

Multiple Paired Foci

The multiple use of let alone in the same sentence is possible:

‘You’d never get a poor man, let alone a rich man, to wash, let alone wax, a car, let alone a truck, for $2, let alone $1, in bad times, let alone in prosperous times.’ (Fillmore, 1988, p.520)

This feature can be formalized as follows: ‘X1A1X2A2…XnAnXn+1 let alone X1B1X2B2 ….XnBnXn+1’ (Fillmore, 1988, p.520)

Xs are syntactic variables, As and Bs contrastively focused elements. ‘[…]To any stretch of the form Ai…Aj we can conjoin the stretch of the form let alone Bi…Bj, removing this stretch from the right-hand side , as in a poor man wash your car , let alone a rich man wax your truck, or a poor man, let alone a rich man, wash your car, let alone wax your truck. Variables (non-focused elements) on the right get deleted if they are flanked by moved B elements.’ (Fillmore, 1988, p.521)

Further examples of multiple foci can be found in the Authentic Data section, Query: „let alone*let alone“.uk

3.1.3. External Category

(category label) Structural Position

(syntagmatic relationships with other constructions (but see also 4.3))

(syntagmatic relationships with other constructions (but see also 4.3))

3.2. Morphology


(general comments on the morphological properties of the construction)

3.2.2. Internal Morphological Properties of Elements

(morphological properties of elements)

3.2.3. External Morphological Properties of Construction

(morphological properties of the construction itself)

4. Meaning

4.1. Semantics


(frame evoked)

For a semantic interpretation of the let alone construction the syntactic formula F < X A let alone B Y > can be assigned into the following formula F’< X A Y >. If F’ is a grammatical negation the sentence claims both ‘not (X A Y)’ and ‘not (X B Y)’. Here the entailment relation becomes obvious, the first has been claimed and the second necessarily follows. This is also the main meaning of the construction.

4.1.2. Internal Frame

(frame evoked) Event

(event type)

The probability or improbability of an event to happen in the future or the past is described in relation to an even more probable or improbable event. Participants

(description of the participants, e.g. as 'selection restrictions') Truth-Conditional Information

(information on the truthconditional properties of the construction)

For sentences that are assertions the two parts of a standard let alone sentence need to be true. Negation

(peculiar behaviours with respect to negation)

As was discussed above in most cases let alone acts as a negative polarity item and therefore occurs in negated sentences of the form ‘not (X A Y)’ and ‘not (X B Y)’. Scope

(description of the scope of the construction)

The let alone construction semantically joins two events which are either both true or both untrue. Event (A) is either more likely or more unlikely, than event (B). In that way the scope of the let alone construction compares these two events to each other and we get a better impression of the probability or improbability of event (B).

4.1.3. External Semantic Class

(semantic category)
Conventional implicature ?? (Bender and Kathol 2001) Relation to Construction-External Semantic Elements

(description of semantic relations outside of the construction)

The let alone construction usually occurs in a context like the following:

'A: I doubt I have enough material here for a week. B: You’ve got enough material there for a whole semester, let alone a week.’ (Fillmore, 1988, p.519)

The fragment clause uttered by B is the denial of the context sentence uttered by A. Truth Relations

(information on the truthconditional relationships of the construction)

See Semantic Presuppositions

(semantic presupposition)

‘If we hear someone say She didn’t get to Berlin let alone Warsaw, we infer that a journey from West to East is under discussion, while if what we heard had been She didn’t get to Warsaw let alone Berlin, we would have inferred a journey from East to West.’ (Fillmore, 1988, p.525) As can be seen from the preceding examples the entailment relationship involves scalar semantics. A let alone sentence is interpreted in a Scalar Model

‘The basic semantic conditions on let alone sentences are these: (1) the full clause preceding let alone and the reduced clause (or fragment) following let alone are interpreted as two propositions from the same scalar model; (2) the two propositions (represented by the full clause and the reduced clause) are of the same polarity; and (3) one of the two propositions, syntactically that expressed by the initial, full clause, is stronger than the other.’ (Fillmore, 1988, p. 528) Semantic Entailments

(semantic entailments)

4.2. Pragmatics


(general comments on the pragmatic behaviour of the construction)

Let alone sentences involve two speech acts, the stronger A part F’< X A Y > and the weaker B part F’< X B Y >. The context in which the let alone sentence is uttered, is of major importance for the understanding of the sentence.

4.2.2. Internal

(internal pragmatic properties)

The context in which the let alone sentence is uttered creates a relevance for the utterance of the weaker B clause. Fillmore calls this the Context Proposition. The B clause either rejects or accepts this context proposition. The speaker adds an even more informative sentence, the stronger A clause. The function of the let alone construction is to meet demands of Relevance and Quantity. The effect of the let alone sentence is to reinforce the speaker’s commitment to the matter of the B clause. Since the matter of the A clause automatically entails the matter of the B clause it supports the speakers attitude towards the Context Proposition.

4.2.3. External Indexical Properties Deixis

(linguistic and extralinguistic domains indexed) Intertextuality

(intertextual links evoked) Interpersonal Function

(politeness, other-self, etc.)
Usually used to express disagreement, sometimes conveying irony and humour, sarcasm. Speaker attitude

(modality, epistemic, emotion)
Speaker distances him-/herself from the supposed inferential relation between X and Y. Speech Act Function

(illocutionary force)

The speaker rejects or accepts the context proposition by mentioning a more informative matter which entails the truth or falseness of the context proposition. Rhetorical Function

(rhetorical potential) Style

(stylistic features) Pragmatic Presuppositions / Implicature

(modality, epistemic, emotion)

4.3. Discourse Properties

4.3.1. Internal Turn Constructional Status

(status as TCU) Within-Turn Position

(turn-initial, -medial, -final position, etc.)

4.3.2.External Sequential Context

(position in sequence) Position in Text- and Dialogue-Structure

(position in larger discourse structure) Sequence Type

(type of sequence)

4.4. Information Structure

4.4.1. Internal Topic - Comment

(contribution to topic-comment structure) Focus

(placement of focus)

In general, the focus lies on the weaker B clause, which is emphasized through the comparison to the matter of the A clause.

4.4.2. External Signaled Information Status

(status of information as given, new, inferable, etc.)

B is true or untrue because A is true or untrue. Information Status Requirements

(information status requirements)

4.5. Data

4.5.1. Introspection

(introspective data used)

4.5.2. Authentic data Source data properties

(description of corpus (publicly available/self-compiled, channel/medium, register, genre, text type, speaker info (number of interlocutors, gender, age, background, (non-)native, etc.)))

A) internet via google

Query: „let alone“.uk

06/28/07 www.saidwhat.co.uk/keywordquotes/alone On Victoria Beckham: She can't even chew gum and walk in a straight line, let alone write a book.

06/28/07 http://www.amazon.co.uk/never-thought-ever-listen-alone/lm/R2JCZVV3PRL6B4 CD's I never thought id ever listen too, let alone OWN them!

06/28/07 http://www.fortawesome.co.uk/2006/let-alone/ He has no concept of how to hold a guitar, let alone play one.

06/28/07 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/6364281.stm There could be no proper consultation, let alone the fullest consultation

06/28/07 http://eltj.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/reprint/53/4/235.pdf

The last issue of a year, let alone the last of a millennium, is a good time to ask questions about the job which ELT Journal is doing.

Query: „let alone*let alone“.uk



It is this control, this organised forgetting, that has always intrigued me both as a film-maker and a journalist. Described by Harold Pinter as a great silence unbroken by the incessant din of the media age, it assures the powerful in the west that the struggle of whole societies against their crimes is merely "superficially recorded, let alone documented, let alone acknowledged ... It never happened. Even while it was happening it never happened. It didn't matter. It was of no interest".


You need two entirely separate craniums to keep track of everything on the screen in this game, let alone stay alive, let alone keep shooting at the right thing. Hard? It's often enough to panic you into submission. And it's a long way from the end of the game


You deal in magic Scytle. Your thinking on energy is no more solid than a whacked out astrologist tripping on mescaline. Rationality isn't a quality you're capable of recognizing let alone possessing, let alone being in possession of!

B) BNC via SARA Query: „let alone“


A64 559 In the present state of our knowledge of provincial life during the late Tsarist and early Soviet periods, no precise scale can as yet be drawn up on any single topic, let alone a general model that encompasses and balances all factors.

A6U 542 If one only takes educational institutions such as universities and colleges, let alone the world outside, the emancipatory impulse of the sixties and early seventies has been turned inside out.

AAF 623 In Germany in 1939, a British Gentile, let alone a Jew, knew what to expect of the Nazi authorities and got out if they could.

ABJ 835 Like any self-respecting academics, the Brookings authors do not agree on what the problem is, let alone how to cure it.

ABW 1310 Jane didn't know how he --; or Mozart, Schubert, Monet, Van Gogh --; had lived, let alone created. ACG 304 The wood is laid on the altar, Isaac is bound and then `;put'; (the word in the Hebrew is as colourless as that: it is as if he is an object for slaughter, no longer a human being, let alone Abraham's son) on the wood.

ACG 723 But at this point the story takes an abrupt turn, and takes us into territory that at first seems quite strange, beyond even our imagining, let alone our experience.

AHK 1691 Four hours a day in a blazing saddle can leave its mark, but my bottom was fine, the terrain being so rough that we never broke into a trot, let alone a gallop.

AJY 109 There was little danger of the methodical Faldo, the chalk, offering grip-it-and-rip-it Daly, the cheese, much in the way of companionship, let alone love or support, yesterday.

APW 3484 Dhia, that'll never drape the mourners and the flags, let alone the hall and the kirk.

B01 871 Psychogeriatric care is of increasing importance with the rising incidence of senile dementia --; yet some health authorities are still without even a single psychogeriatrician, let alone an adequate level of staffing for their elderly population.

B23 1501 Few headteachers, let alone governors and teaching staff in schools, will have come across many of the local-authority service departments mentioned above and hence may often find it difficult to appreciate and understand the outcomes of their systems and policy-implementation decisions.

C88 1008 This is bad but, for all the anxiety, it does not bear comparison with the jolts of the mid-1970s and the early 1980s, let alone with 1929-;31 when the value of British exports almost halved.

CAH 2140 At a time of unprecedented challenge in the political arena, many of Smith's colleagues worry that his will-reading Morningside manner is hardly designed to energise the faithful, let alone excite the doubtful.

CB5 1466 There were enough passengers ready to believe that they would never wish to eat again, let alone eat fat bacon.

CBC 568 I'm not even sure what these people do, let alone why they should be entitled to such a perk.

CCL 1473 Consequently, she admits, `;There was a part of me that secretly felt evangelism was something you shouldn't do to your dog, let alone a friend'; (Pippert 1980:16).

CDW 1460 Most of our social services --; let alone the construction of a Welfare State or `;Great Society'; of universal welfare provision are morally invalid.

CFJ 528 `;I'm deeply shocked that you would even speak to them, my girl, let alone listen to them.

CG0 1007 It is, of course, highly unlikely that anyone who diverged too far from the Party's orthodoxy would even reach the TOEFL examination room let alone be awarded a government scholarship.

CH8 2409 Never in my wildest dreams had I ever thought I would even go to Hollywood, let alone work with people like him.

CKD 1944 `;You've no reason to worry, I'm not a child and anyway the fare is dear enough for one of us, let alone two.

CN2 547 In a complicated matter like an aircraft accident it can be very difficult indeed for a lawyer, let alone a layman, to identify the party against whom a claim should be registered in the absence of a full accident report from a competent and disinterested organisation such as AIB or the NTSB.

CRC 3466 Few governments have much idea of how much waste their citizens produce and what it consists of, let alone where it can be put.

EA6 613 It was impossible for the government to derive any clear picture of its own administrative apparatus, let alone of the distribution of resources in the Empire.

EFA 409 In most other respects, however, joint efforts, such as they were, to keep the peace, let alone to share the responsibilities of government, were coming to an end.

EVP 1071 Given the uniqueness of each individual, and given the gradations and shadings of opinion found even among those who are in broad agreement on a particular issue, representation, even of one person by another, let alone of a group by a single person, must always be approximate and imperfect.

F9D 1336 It is, therefore, extremely difficult, a priori , to demonstrate that a single medium is successful, let alone that one medium is superior to another.

F9G 1267 The boats are diesel-powered rather than sailing cobles, but the fleet is small and scarcely serves its local market, let alone an important part of what is in any event a diminishing national fleet.

FAT 445 He had happened upon me at the crucial moment: I had little idea of who I was or what I was entitled to from life, let alone what it behoved me to contribute.

FPJ 1037 But accepting the fetishism of normality can never even address these problems, let alone resolve them.

G1R 631 The Soviet Union has little or no influence, let alone control, over the vast majority of them.

G3B 1916 From now on we had the greatest difficulty in talking to one another, let alone meeting.

GU9 1081 Even the all-white cotton garments, the mainstay of the inventory, posed an unexpected problem in the U S because these items had to be ironed, starched too if possible; many Americans do not even possess an iron, let alone use one.

H7X 1088 Our minds can't imagine a timespan as long as a million years, let alone the thousands of millions of years that geologists routinely compute.

HH3 3941 They pointed me towards writers I had never even heard of, let alone read.

HHW 591 It is our long-held view that foreign spent nuclear fuel should not be sent to Dounreay for storage, let alone for reprocessing, because it breaches what is for us a fundamental principle: that the responsibility for the disposal of spent nuclear fuel should lie with the reactor operators.

HHW 13634 In many ways families have never recovered from the earlier recession of the 1980s, let alone the current recession.

HJ3 2668 Reflecting on the most traumatic period of his life, let alone his rugby career, he said: `;I just felt like a man reprieved.

HP0 3202 And how you come out unscathed --; let alone with gold in your palm --; I'll never understand.

J1C 1220 What's worse is that the commentators are constantly fawning to the scum, the game against us at the pigstye being the prime example, going on the BBC coverage Leeds didn't appear to touch the ball let alone get it out of their own half.

J6P 830 Only very rarely will the conditions be met so as to enable the new firm to act for one of the litigating clients let alone all of them.

JYD 2006 How could she keep resisting him when she turned to fire under his powerful gaze, let alone his touch?

JYM 995 And I was thinking, I can't even get these ones let alone the two liners.

KA3 334 The present ski development is unsafe for walkers to walk through towards the carriers as the skiers do not give way to each other let alone walkers. Methods of Analysis

(source material size/length, number of tokens considered, sampling, search string, sample rate, number of retrieved hits, cleaning procedures)

Qualitative inspection of the internet hits.

4.6. Literature

(list of literature in which this construction has been discussed)

Fillmore, Charles, Kay, Paul, and O’Connor, M. (1988). Regularity and Idiomaticity in Grammatical Constructions: The Case of Let Alone. Language 64, 501-538.

5. Relations to other constructions

As was said before the let alone construction shares properties with coordinating conjunctions like ‘but’ or ‘and’ but it can also conjoin different types of subclauses or fragmented sentences. It also has properties of negative polarity items.

5.1. Subtypes

5.1.1. Diachronic

(relations to subtypes of the construction through time)

5.1.2. Synchronic

(relations to subtypes of the construction)

5.2. Supertypes

5.2.1. Diachronic

(relations to more general constructions through time)

5.2.2. Synchronic

(relations to more general constructions)

5.3. Paradigmatic Relations

(relations to constructions of the same category)

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