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I know the phrase "let alone" can be used in this way:

"The man is too severely injured to be saved even by a doctor, let alone by a layman like me."

But can I use it this way:

"Even a doctor can't save a man so severely injured, let alone a layman like me."

Thank you.

  • Yes, I think so. I also think you should highlight 'let alone', since that is the point of your concern. – marcellothearcane Aug 3 at 13:33
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let alone OED

e. The imperative let alone, or the present participle used absol., is used colloquially with the sense ‘not to mention’. (The object, whether noun, adjective, or clause, in this use follows alone.)

Your usage is grammatical and acceptable.

As in:

  • 1966 Listener 20 Oct. I cannot say that I ever felt anything like twice as old (let alone twice as wise) as my Polish friends.

  • 1974 L. Deighton Spy Story He'd never be considered for a high security clearance, let alone a job in the Service.

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The meaning of the second sentence can be completely differently from the first.

1. The man is too severely injured to be saved even by a doctor, let alone by a layman like me.

This means that the man can't be saved by a doctor, and certainly not by you, since you aren't a doctor.

2. Even a doctor can't save a man so severely injured, let alone a layman like me.

Depending on how you interpret it, the syntax could mean that even a doctor can't save a man so severely injured, and a doctor certainly wouldn't be able to save you.


Of course, the interpretation of the second sentence I give doesn't follow any logic from the sentence itself; however, the syntax certainly allows it. It would only make sense if laypeople, by definition, were always more than severely injured.

  • Thank you, and that's what I am concerned about. So I reckon I should avoid using the phrase this way. – Kevin Jul 23 at 0:11
  • In my opinion your interpretation of the second sentence is the most natural interpretation of that syntax, but because (as you've noted) that interpretation doesn't actually make sense it forces the reader to stop (however briefly) to think about what the writer really meant. The first sentence has no such problem. I think the difference between the two sentence structures becomes even clearer if you remove "a layman like" from both. Others may disagree, but that just gives more reason to avoid the second form. – nnnnnn Jul 23 at 3:48
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Either of these sentences is acceptable. The meaning is similar in each case. It is a matter of preference which you choose.

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