The following is an excerpt from the book titled "On the move" written by Oliver Sacks.

I was surprised to find, at one point, that I had drunk, in tiny increments, almost half the bottle. I noticed no effect, so I continued reading and sipping from the bottle, increasingly upended now it was half-empty. ...... The bottle was now empty. I still felt no effects; the stuff must be much weaker than they make out, I thought, even though it said "100 proof" on the label.

The singular or plural problem always has me confused. In the above, could anyone please explain to me why the author wrote "I noticed no effect"(not "no effects") and "I still felt no effects"(not "no effect")? Or are they just interchangeable?


As @xxxxxx correctly points out in their answer, a plural noun can follow no, which is termed a determiner.

For example:

  1. There is no bottle in the cabinet. (s)
  2. There are no bottles in the cabinet. (pl)

In the first sentence, the speaker states that the cabinet does not contain a bottle. This bottle could contain any substance, for instance it might be medicine, alcohol or even oil.

In the second sentence, the speaker says the cabinet doesn't contain any bottles.

If we replace no with a and some respectively, we'd get

  1. There is a bottle in the cabinet
  2. There are some bottles in the cabinet.

Effect is a countable noun

Ingesting medicine prescribed by a doctor should produce at least one positive effect in the patient, it should alleviate one or more symptoms of the illness.

  • Physical rehabilitation has a positive effect on disability in multiple sclerosis patients

But medicines can also produce one or more negative effects, which are often referred to as
side effects

  • Statin side effects can be uncomfortable but are rarely dangerous.

Likewise, if we changed the OP's first example, we'd obtain the following

  • I noticed no effect (I was unaffected / the substance didn't produce the effect I was expecting)
  • I noticed an effect (I was affected / the substance produced an effect)

and in its plural form

  • I still felt no effects = I still didn't feel any effects.
  • I still felt some effects = the two or more effects of the substance continued.
  • Thank you so much for your detailed explanation. I completely understand it now.
    – Luxembourg
    Sep 21 '16 at 8:14

Both the singular and the plural form for countable nouns can be used after no as a determiner meaning:

  • not any; not one; not a:

    • There's no butter left.

    • There are no pockets in these trousers.

    • *That's my kind of holiday - no email, no phone, and no worries.

    • There's no chance (= no possibility) of us getting there by eight. (Cambridge Dictionary)
  • The singular form is probably more commonly used.


Ngram no worry vs no worries, Ngram no chance vs no chances.

Usage examples:

From OECD Guidelines for the Testing of Chemicals:

  • At least three dose groups and a control group should generally be used, but if from the assessment of other data, no effects would be expected at a repeated dose of 1000 mg/kg body weight/day, a limit test may be performed.

From Statistics Applied To Clinical Trials:

  • In any test we reject the null-hypothesis of no treatment effect if the value of the test statistic (F, t, q, or chi- square) was bigger than 95% of the values that would occur if the treatment had no effect.
  • 1
    Thank you so much! The Ngram you posted with your explanation definitely helped me a lot to get a better sense of singular-plural issue.
    – Luxembourg
    Sep 21 '16 at 8:15

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