Is there any slight difference between these two sentences?

  • You cannot drink it alone. and
  • You cannot drink it by yourself.

Yes, a slight difference, more in usage than in grammar terms.

You cannot drink it alone.

means wanting to drink with other people around. More common would be:

You cannot drink alone.

For example:

(Someone walks into the bar and wants to join you, and insists) You cannot drink alone.

as for

You cannot drink it by yourself.

means you need someone's help to finish the drink. For example:

That is a large bottle of wine. You cannot drink it by yourself.

Of course then two people are involved so you are not alone. In any case, it is ambiguous without context.

  • +1. For the main distinction here. Though by yourself can also mean, "without company". Why are you sitting here off in the corner by yourself? – Tᴚoɯɐuo Aug 19 '17 at 19:46
  • I think the it in the first sentence is critical. With it, it does mean pretty much the same as "by yourself," in my opinion. – Ringo Aug 19 '17 at 20:10
  • @Ringo That is how I read it in my mind. In straight grammar, there may be no difference. – user3169 Aug 19 '17 at 20:18
  • @Tᴚoɯɐuo Sure, but that is changing the context. For this question, the only context I can assume is drinking some (probably alcoholic) liquid. Possibly this question should be closed for lacking more specific context. – user3169 Aug 19 '17 at 20:20
  • @user3169: To be sure, context is key. Transitive/intransitive makes all the difference. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Aug 19 '17 at 20:25

Both of these statements carry two meanings which are the same. How they are to be understood depends on the context that they're used in.

They could mean:

  • You cannot drink it without another person present.
  • You cannot drink it without sharing it with another person.

You cannot drink it alone can also have a third meaning:

  • You cannot drink it without eating or drinking something else at the same time.
  • 3
    Well done noticing the third meaning. It might be interesting to note that the third meaning could also be expressed by "you cannot drink it by itself" — that is, it comes up because it's ambiguous whether "alone" applies to the subject or the object in this case. – hobbs Aug 19 '17 at 23:32
  • 1
    @MvLog "You can't eat/drink it by itself" it might be grammatically "wrong", but it's often used in British English, and most people will understand exactly what it means. It's also completely unambiguous, unlike "You can't eat/drink it alone". The alternative meaning would be expressed as "You can't eat/drink it by oneself" of course. – alephzero Aug 20 '17 at 0:34
  • 4
    @MvLog "you cannot drink it by itself" isn't wrong in any way. There's no lack of a verb, no lack of a subject, and no problem using "it". – hobbs Aug 20 '17 at 3:22
  • Let's see what the gurus say about it. – Michael Login Aug 20 '17 at 7:43
  • 2
    "You can't eat/drink it by itself" sounds fine in American English, too. In fact, "You should not take X by itself" is a common drug warning, and such warnings need to be absolutely clear to avoid dangerous consequences. – 1006a Aug 20 '17 at 20:53

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.