Adv I Lesson 1: -은/는커녕, let alone

In this lesson, we will look at a way of being a little dramatic in Korean. :P Kidding. But this grammar point is used to indicate that not only was the clause it’s attached to is impossible, but that the additional following clause, something easier and simple, is also impossible. Confused yet? Let’s have an example.

오늘 아침에 시간이 없어서 밥은커녕 물도 못 마셨어요.
Because I had no time this morning, I couldn’t even drink water let alone eat.

Using this grammar point has the same meaning in English as “I was unable to do (super simple action), let alone (action originally question).”  However, the order is reversed in Korean compared to the translation:

[A]은/는커녕 [B]도 못/안 한다.
When using this grammar point, B has to be the task that’s a lot easier than A. B is an action that should normally be easier to do, but because of your situation at hand, A is impossible, and B even more so.

This grammar point is used mainly in speech and is used with nouns.
-은커녕~ is attached to nouns ending in a consonant.
-는커녕~ is attached to nouns ending in a vowel.

그는 춤은커녕 제대로 걷지도 못 해요.
He can’t even walk properly, let alone dance.

소주는커녕 맥주도 못 마셔요.
I can’t even drink beer, let alone soju.

지난 주말에 몸이 너무 아파서 외출은커녕 침대에서 일어나지도 못 했어요.
Last weekend my body hurt so much I couldn’t even get out of bed, let alone go outside.

You’ll notice that the [B] action in all of the above examples is followed by the subject particle -도. However this can also be swapped with -조차(도) to emphasize how basic the [B] action is.

목이 아파서 밥은커녕조차 마실 수 없어요.
My throat hurts so much I can’t even drink water, let alone eat.

This grammar point also has an additional use, where rather than the expected or anticipated action [A] occurring, [B] happened instead. In this instance [B] is usually a complete opposite of action [A]. The adverb 오히려 (rather, instead) can be used to emphasize how opposite the actions are. You would add 오히려 following 은/는커녕.

레오 씨가 사과했냐고? 사과는커녕 오히려 화만 내고 가 버렸어!!
Did Leo apologize? Never mind apologizing, he got angry and walked away!!

In this example, the speaker was expecting their friend to apologize for something, but instead of the expected or anticipated action (an apology), the opposite happened where the friend became angry and walked away instead.

There is an additional way this grammar point can be used with verbs. To use this grammar point with a verb, -기는커녕 is added directly to the verb stem.

그는 다른 사람을 돕기는커녕 자신의 일도 제대로 못해요.
He can’t even do his own work properly, let alone help other people.

내일이 시험인데 공부를 하기는커녕 TV만 보고 있어요.
The test is tomorrow but I’m just watching TV, never mind studying.

When using verbs with -기는커녕 you must be very careful to keep the verb in it’s affirmative form, despite the fact that it’s a negative meaning sentence. Basically: don’t conjugate the verb you attach -기는커녕 to. It is used directly with the verb stem. This is a mistake a lot of Korean learners make.

공부를 열심히 하지 않기는커녕  X
공부를 열심히 하기는커녕  O

그는 공부를 열심히 하기는커녕 학교에도 매일 결석해요.
He doesn’t even come to class everyday, let alone study hard.

Bonus: You can replace -은/는커녕 with the grammar point -은/는 고사하고 with pretty much no change in meaning. (Verbs: -기는커녕 can be used interchangeably with -는 것은 고사하고).

아침은커녕 물도 아직 못 마셨어요.
아침은 고사하고 물도 아직 못 마셨어요.
I haven’t drank water yet, never mind eat breakfast.

That’s all for this time. :D Questions? My ask is over here.