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Context: X is a superior fighter to Y. X didn't beat Z in a boxing match.

I want to make a statement meaning Y is even less likely to beat Z, using the phrase "let alone". How can I do it?

  1. X didn't beat Z, let alone Y.
  2. Z wasn't beat by X, let alone Y.

I don't think sentence 1 means what I want.

2 Answers 2

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Note that OP's #2 should be Z wasn't beaten by X, let alone Y.

Both versions are in principle ambiguous (maybe Y is less likely than X to beat Z, OR maybe Y is less likely than Z to be beaten by X. You can disambiguate by putting even before the one that Y is less likely to apply to...

Even X didn't beat Z, let alone Y
Z wasn't beaten by even X, let alone Y

...which both unambiguously assert that Y is far less likely to beat Z than X is (likely to beat Z). And given that (even) X didn't beat Z, the chance of Y beating Z is extremely low.


Note that OP's second example can also be disambiguated by repeating the preposition...

2a: Z wasn't beaten by X, let alone by Y
Y is even less likely than X to win
...WHICH IS NOT THE SAME AS...
Y is even less likely to be beaten by X than Z is (likely to be beaten by X)


It may help people see the ambiguity if they imagine saying OP's example sentences with very heavy stress on either X OR Z. Whichever one you put the heavy stress on (and/or precede by even is the one that let alone Y applies to.

X didn't beat Z, let alone Y
(if even X couldn't beat Z, Y would have no chance of beating Z)
Z wasn't beaten by X, let alone Y
(if X couldn't beat even Z, X would have no chance of beating Y)

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  • This is so extremely confusing I'm not even sure what you are trying to say, and I doubt the asker is either. Neither of your two examples are natural English and their usage is nearly nonexistent (as I verified in multiple copora). No one should form sentences like these if they wish to sound natural or be understood.
    – BadZen
    Commented Jul 25, 2023 at 1:55
  • Do you in fact understand the starting point here? (That both the OP's examples are ambiguous, so arguably we can say they both mean what he wants, or that neither of them do. If you don't grasp the ambiguity in the first place, you're never gonna make sense of the question. Commented Jul 25, 2023 at 13:48
  • There's no ambiguity. Both examples in OP convey the same meaning but are somewhat unnatural. Yours are downright tortured and would lose points on a high school English class essay. OP is asking about the way fluent speakers express the meaning he intends, and I give it in my answer.
    – BadZen
    Commented Jul 25, 2023 at 14:00
  • @BadZen: That's ridiculous. Are you claiming that my final pair of examples (just OP's exact text, but choosing different nouns to place heavy stress on) don't carry two different meanings? Look again, and if you still don't get it, say them out loud! Commented Jul 25, 2023 at 17:49
  • The main point is that your examples are ungrammatical and no one should utter them. "Z wasn't beaten by even X, let alone Y". Can you at least try putting the things you write in a rudimentary grammar or usage checker before you recommend them to others, if you are unwilling to believe constructive criticism you receive here?
    – BadZen
    Commented Jul 29, 2023 at 1:22
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<X> wasn't beaten by <Y>, let alone <Z>

The speaker simply means: not only was <X> not beaten by <Y>, but also <X> was not beaten by <Z>.

In the speaker's opinion, <Y> is a much better opponent than <Z>, and if <Y> could not beat <X>, <Z> could not beat them either.

Compare:

A: Can you loan me $100 until the end of the week?

B: I don't have twenty dollars, let alone a hundred!

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    According to Cambridge dictionary, your sentence "<X> wasn't beaten by <Y>, let alone <Z>" emphasizes how unlikely being beaten by <Z> was because being beaten by <Y>, which was far more likely, hadn't happened. So, <Z> should be inferior to <Y> in this case. What do you think?
    – Vova
    Commented Aug 3, 2023 at 0:03
  • You're absolutely correct, I must've been very tired when I wrote this. Apologies for the error, I've edited above. Thanks for the correction.
    – BadZen
    Commented Aug 3, 2023 at 1:13

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