The following sentence

Often, we're so trapped in thoughts of the future or the past that we forget to experience, let alone enjoy, what's happening right now.

I understand that "that we forget to experience what's happening right now." is a relative clause describing thoughts.

But is "let alone enjoy" a participle phrase modifying we ?

  • I'm not sure about the technical term (there might be a better term for this than "adverbial phrase"). The phrase "let alone enjoy" looks like a discourse marker to me. It seems to function as an adverbial phrase modifying (or emphasizing) "experience", i.e. "to experience, let alone enjoy" is what we forget. Commented May 2, 2014 at 14:42

3 Answers 3


"Let alone __" is an Idiom. Its used after a description of status to show how far away another status is.

If someone asks a high school student, when they are getting their masters degree; That student could say "I am not close to graduating high school, let alone close to graduating with a bachelors".

Idioms are hard to place in a nice neat container sometimes, Im not able to say with confidence its a particle phrase, but i know its not modifying we.

Let alone _ is both describing how unobtainable the state, or status is while also saying what part of it is unobtainable. That state being "whats happening right now."

To put it anther way, enjoyment of "whats happening right now" is unobtainable by "we" because "we" has yet to experience "Whats happening right now".

Since the state "whats happening right now" is described as unobtainable, a person could reasonably say that let alone is a participle phrase.

I hope that helps.

  • Is it necessarily a description of status? I will not walk, let alone run. It is used with irrealis, rather than realis.
    – jimsug
    Commented May 5, 2014 at 8:42
  • Its the status in regards to the willingness to run. I agree it is used with irrealis, but whether it is a description of the actual state of affairs, or a description of the desired state of affairs, is neither here nor there. I suppose using the word "state" would be preferable to "status" but they are so close I use them interchangeably. Commented May 5, 2014 at 12:23
  • Hmm. Trying to get the nub of this, but when you say how far away another status is, do you mean "how unlikely, though (un)desirable", or just "how unlikely"? I would probably say the former. For instance, can you read the following without injecting some kind of desire into it? He was barely a painter, let alone a fighter pilot. I can't read that any other way than him wanting to be a fighter pilot. Do you think (un)desirability plays a role in grammatical use of the idiom?
    – jimsug
    Commented May 6, 2014 at 12:09
  • I would say the idiom "let alone" most often plays a role in (un)desirability but is not restricted to it. "I can barley speak, let alone sing" does not necessarily imply the person wants to sing, just that he/she cannot sing. If the sentence preceding that is "I wish i could sing." would show that he does desire to. But if the sentence was, "my doctor told me to try singing." It shows that he/she is simply evaluating his/her state of affairs. Commented May 6, 2014 at 13:10
  • 1
    agree to disagree I suppose. It is tricky I suppose, but so is the English language. Commented May 6, 2014 at 15:56

Let alone is idiomatic, but it's a conjunction, roughly equivalent to "or", and used interchangeably with "much less" and "not to mention".

Because it's idiomatic, it's loaded with additional meaning: that it's less likely than the item that precedes it, whether it's an action or a thing.

Some examples of 'let alone' on Collins

  • Another said it "does nothing to demonstrate a threat, let alone an imminent threat.
  • Even the bacterial cause of tuberculosis, let alone specific therapies, were unknown at that time.
  • Gunwharf Quays is set to host the biggest ever Global Challenge yacht race start, let alone the best week long celebrations!
  • Harry had trouble hearing himself, let alone any of Rossi's answers.
  • He also said questions had been raised over Railtrack's ability to fund existing maintenance projects, let alone further improvements.

From thefreedictionary:

let alone
Not to mention; much less: "Their ancestors had been dirt poor and never saw royalty, let alone hung around with them" (Garrison Keillor).

You could rewrite the sentence as

Often, we're so trapped in thoughts of the future or the past that we forget to experience, and certainly forget to enjoy, what's happening right now.


Often, we're so trapped in thoughts of the future or the past that we forget to experience or enjoy what's happening right now.

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