Should I use plural or singular nouns with no in the following context? What's the difference between the following sentences? Are both of the following sentences grammatical?

1- No engineer can do what he can do.

2- No engineers can do what he can do.

Note that the person referred to here as he is not an engineer. And I want to say that He can do something that engineers can't do.

  • In my opinion, both are grammatical, but the meaning is different. The 1 means "any engineer(any one)cannot do what he can do", but the 2 means "any engineers(any group of engineers) cannot do what he can do. Don't trust my comment; I am not a native speaker.
    – GKK
    Jan 2 '18 at 12:55
  • @EvaristeGalois Thank you. As you have said I will wait for somebody who knows the language well. But it doesn't matter if he is a native speaker or not. Actually, my grammar book says "no" can be used with both singular and plural subjects but I can't decide how I should choose between them. So I have asked this qiestion and the example sentences are my own.
    – user254288
    Jan 2 '18 at 13:01
  • I have asked a native speaker about it. She said "The main difference between those two sentences is that one implies that whatever it is can be done by a single person while the other – er, well, what does the other imply? It has had an arbitrary ‘s’ added that makes it unidiomatic and therefore less clear. If you wanted to make engineers plural, a more natural way to phrase it would be: Engineers can’t do what he can do."
    – GKK
    Jan 2 '18 at 13:54

Both are correct but they mean slightly different things - or at least the nuance is different.

No 1 means that nobody who is an engineer can perform the task.

You might say for example: By squeezing through the small hole in the wall to save the child she accomplished what no fireman could do.

What you are saying is that somebody did something that would be impossible for a particular class of people, whether engineers, pilots or whatever.

No 2 means that no engineers from a set or group of engineers are capable of performing the task.

You might say, for example:

We need to fix the crane before work can proceed but no engineers on site have the necessary training.

So it's really a matter of context as to whether you prefer the singular or the plural.

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