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I have two sentences.

  1. With no electric charge and slight mass, the neutrino does not work together with other particles.
  2. It was not a hasty and extreme alteration of the political organization.

and I found the phrases with "no" and "not" mean that

  1. Without electric charge and with slight mass ~
  2. it was not a hasty and not(nor) extreme alteration ~

My question is what makes the differences when it comes to interpretation of "no" and "not"!

In the first sentence, the "no" is linked to only electric charge, but in the second, the "not" is linked to both a hasty and extreme alteration.

Is is only the differences between the words "no" and "not" or is there any sentence structure matters with them? :)

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  • Good question. You have interpreted the sentences correctly, but I think an important thing to realize is that in the second sentence, both "not" and "hasty and extreme" modify "an alteration" - that is, it was not an alteration of the hasty and extreme kind. I'm not sure I could explain exactly when to use no and when to use not, except maybe "not ____" = "not that thing" and "no _____" = "not any kind of thing".
    – stangdon
    Feb 16, 2017 at 12:47

2 Answers 2

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With no electric charge and slight mass ...

The word no is acting as an adjective, equivalent to the lack of both positive and negative. From another perspective it is modifying "charge" in the same way "slight" modifies "mass" later. There is sort of a parallelism which defeats no's application to "slight mass". Consider if there had been a positive charge. Would it even occur to you to carry "positive" through to make it "positive slight mass"?

In other cases, no can carry through. For example, I saw no cats, dogs, or gerbils, but there was a skunk. However, the word but begins a different clause, into which no is not welcome.

It was not a hasty and extreme alteration.

Here not is an adverb, modifying the verb. Since the verb applies to both sides of the and, so does not. The word but can still override the not, however: It was not a hasty alteration but a meticulously planned one.

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It depends on which words are connected to which. In your examples...

“With no electric charge and slight mass...”

The “no” modifies “charge"(noun) and “slight” modifies “mass”(noun). But in

“It was not a hasty and extreme alteration...”

The “not” modifies the (linking-verb) “was” which links to the (noun) “alteration” which in turn is described by BOTH adjectives "hasty" and "extreme". Therefore "not" applies to both. To make this one follow the pattern in the first example, you have to make the "not" refer to the word "hasty" directly, as in this very awkward example:

"It was a not hasty and extreme alteration."

Now the negative ("not") only applies to the first adjective ("hasty").

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  • I especially like your last example, showing that by putting the article ahead of not sort of binds the negation to the scope of the article.
    – RichF
    Feb 21, 2017 at 20:04

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