Today i was browsing cambridge dictionary online for grammar and stumbled upon the no vs not usage. It stated :

Use no with

1/Noun phrase Ie: no cookies for you There's no address on the letter 2/ gradable noun Ie: it's no supprise that the Laker won; they've been practicing so hard

use not with

1/ other phrases and article Ie: this content is not suitable for children that's not something we recommend doing. 2/ ungradable noun Ie: that is not a bird Potatos are not fruit That's not my name There are, however, grey areas like 1/fixed expression It's not worth It's no use 2/ article involvement -you don't use no with articles

That's good and all but then a question popped-up Fruit and address, bird , name are all ungradable nouns( there's nothing truer or less true about them) so why must we sometimes use no and sometimes not.

P/s: another thing came up sadly There's a fly in my soup There's no address on this letter So both fly and address are count-sig then how come the article magically dissapear with address So is it a fixed structure if we put negation into our sentences. Can i write it like? There's no fly in your soup There's an address on this letter

Thanks for reading

3 Answers 3


Michael Swan comments on this issue in Practical English Usage:

No can be used when we want to emphasise a negative idea. Would you believe it? There's no wardrobe in the bedroom! ( More emphatic than ... There isn't a wardrobe ... ) Sorry I can't stop. I've got no time. ( More emphatic than ... I haven't got any time.) There were no letters for you this morning, I'm afraid. ( More emphatic than There weren't any letters ... ) After no, countable nouns are usually plural unless the sense makes a singular noun necessary. Compare: He's got no children. ( More natural than He's got no child.) He's got no wife . ( More normal than He's got no wives.) We prefer not a/any in objects and complements when the sense is not emphatic. Compare: He's no fool. (= He's not a fool at all. - emphatic negative) A whale is not a fish. (NOT A whale is no fish) - the sense is not emphatic.

  • Thank you for your insightful replies, i just checked out another source of answer and the result was much similar to yours point, by using an unlikely key phrase "A secret is gradable.".Turned out , i was not the only one confused by the way Cambridge dictionary expressed its ideas. I would have accepted those information with an eyeblink was i a beginer but i;ve come across too many sentences stating the opposite- ie: This is no fruit- this is not a fruit cases
    – Jessi
    Dec 10, 2017 at 10:22
  • So do you think that that i, as a teacher, should tell students that no and not usage revolve around emphasis and what not in that case? Also do you think that Cambridge is a totally credible source of information?Do you mind sharing other reliable information sources? Because lately , i've found that some of their pronunciations and grammar to be iffy , the more i learn English.
    – Jessi
    Dec 10, 2017 at 10:26
  • Use "no" either to answer a question with a single word, or to precede a noun that has no article.

There are no brown cookies available (directly refers to a noun)

  • Otherwise use "not," particularly when it is used with an article, modifying a verb or adjectives, or when used with a qualifier like "any"

There are not any brown cookies available (modifier)

He is not running for election (verb)

Do not ask me why (verb)

I am not the man of the house (article)

The gas tank is not empty (adjective)

In spoken English these would generally be contractions.

To answer your second question, yes you may say

There is no fly in your soup


There is not a fly in your soup

You may say

There is no address on this letter


There is not an address on this letter

The differences in meaning/connotation are very subtle. Almost nonexistent.

  • i've seen phrases such as " this is no time to change your mind" and " this is not the time to change your mind" Now i understand that you must use "NOT" if articles like the, a, an exist but why does the second phrase require the article the before "the" word time but not in the 1st phrase, they are essentially the same right?
    – Jessi
    Dec 10, 2017 at 10:28
  • 1
    Essentially the same, yes. The second very subtly implies that there may be some other time when it is a good time to change your mind, while the first is silent on the subject.
    – farnsy
    Dec 10, 2017 at 12:01
  • So the 2nd phrase means that there might be other times to make decision so we must use "the" to pin-point that exact moment thevinstant that sentence is said right? Thks for the info.
    – Jessi
    Dec 12, 2017 at 1:33

Grammatically, "not" and "no" are hardly ever interchangeable.

Leaving aside the use of "no" as an interjection, "no" is a quantifier that may be used as a part of a noun phrase. All other contexts require "not".

It is not in general true that "no" cannot be used with a mass noun. It can be used as subject: "No water spilled out of the bucket"; as object "They brought no water with them"; as indirect object "She asked for them for no water".

I may note, however, that when the phrase is not a subject, using "no" is somewhat literary, with countable or uncountable nouns. So a more colloquial version of the last two would be "They didn't bring any water with them" and "She didn't ask them for (any) water".

In one particular context, the use of "no" is very literary, and is more or less limited to count nouns: this is as the complement of "be" and similar verbs. So in that particular context, we can say "She is no teacher!" (but it is not common, and would only be used for special emphasis), but it would be odd to say "That is no water!"

  • hi, thank you for for reading this, but do you happen to know the classification of ungradable meaning and gradable meaning in English because that's what confuses me the most in this particular case. Cause address and fruit are both ungradable but why must we split them like "there's no address on this letter" and " potato is not a fruit " in this link dictionary.cambridge.org/grammar/british-grammar/no-or-not are articles the only difference here?
    – Jessi
    Dec 10, 2017 at 10:32
  • I don't know the phrase "ungradable meaning". Countableness is a property of words, not meanings, as you can see by comparing "fruit" (sometimes uncountable) with "vegetable" (always countable). "Fruit", like many other foods, is usually countable, but may be uncountable when it is referring to an ingredient or component of a meal. But "vegetable" cannot be used in that way: it is always countable.
    – Colin Fine
    Dec 10, 2017 at 10:43
  • "Address" is always countable, as far as I can tell, so "There's no address on this letter" is an instance of "no" quantifying a count noun in subject position, which is normal, as I said. "A potato is not a fruit" is an instance of "fruit" used countably, so is much more common than the (grammatical but very unusual) "A potato is no fruit" - again following the patterns I mentioned, since it is the complement of "is".
    – Colin Fine
    Dec 10, 2017 at 10:46
  • Further thought: the example of "fruit" shows that I should have said that countableness is a property of words and meanings, not just of meanings. So "fruit" is countable in some meanings, uncountable in others; but "vegetable" is countable in all meanings.
    – Colin Fine
    Dec 10, 2017 at 18:50
  • My apology for the late reply.So , is it safe to say that the word "no" preceding a countable noun is one rare instance that we don't need the add the article "a,an and the" before the countable noun ie: there's no address on this letter. So is there any good source of information about this rule so my students can use as a source of reference?
    – Jessi
    Dec 12, 2017 at 1:23

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