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I had titled my question on History SE

How is it possible to be a baronet and no peer?

A native speaker came along and corrected it to:

How is it possible to be a baronet and not a peer?

Why is that?

  • @user2684291 Why remove the grammar tag? Lambie clearly sees it as a grammatical error – Ludi Mar 29 '18 at 15:21
  • See this. The grammar tag doesn't add anything. It doesn't narrow down or specify the question, and neither does it help when searching for something specific. If you really don't know what to tag the question with, use the grammar tag. – userr2684291 Mar 29 '18 at 20:47
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How is it possible to be a baronet and not a peer?

That is grammatical.

Why is "How is it possible to be a baronet and no peer?" not grammatical?

Sentences with two infinitival clauses require parallel construction:

It is possible to be a baronet and not [to be] a peer.

No peer is a quantifier like any or some but it can also be "gradable".

You can say: He is no peer. As an alternative to: He is not much of a peer.

The Cambridge Dictionary refers to this as "being gradable"; The meaning of "No + noun" is not a yes or no situation.

Is "no peer" gradable? Well, yes, because you could say; He is not much of a peer. He is not much of a king. He is not much of president.

So, it can be said but cannot be part of a compound infinitival phrase, unless both parts of the phrase are in the form "no + noun":

He is no baronet and no peer. The double use of "no + noun", however, is most unusual. It is, however, grammatical.

gradable_when

  • Ι haven’t understood yet. Is the reason that, that it was no parallel construction? Isn’t “to be a baronet and no peer” a parallel construction as an ellipsis of “to be a baronet and be no peer” – Ludi Mar 29 '18 at 14:27
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    No,what you have just asked about is not a parallel construction. The parallel construction would be, as I said above: to be a baronet and not [to be] a peer. To be and not to be. NOT: to be and no [noun]. Sorry but I can't be any clearer. :) – Lambie Mar 29 '18 at 14:45
  • Thanks! Wouldn’t the rule also forbid this: “I shall stay here... till honour be brought up and no sword worn” – Ludi Mar 29 '18 at 14:51
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    No, that is different. That is a **compound phrase": till honour be brought up and no sword [be] worn. – Lambie Mar 29 '18 at 14:57
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    That is fine: That is OK. It is like: He is all work and no play. All and no function as adjectival quantifiers. The word no there is not related to a verb that is negative. The point is: don't mix quantifiers with negative forms of the verb. Either have a quantifier or a negative form of the verb. – Lambie Mar 29 '18 at 17:05
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I can’t tell you exactly why, but I’ll explain how I analyze such things to convince myself which is idiomatic. Split each into two questions, each of those beginning, “How is it possible to be...”, and then add on the two items under consideration. Like this:

How is it possible to be a baronet and no peer?” becomes:

  1. How is it possible to be a baronet?
  2. How is it possible to be no peer?

And “How is it possible to be a baronet and not a peer?” becomes:

  1. How is it possible to be a baronet? (i.e same as 1.)
  2. How is it possible to be not a peer?

Now, look at the ending of 1 (a.k.a 3) and notice it is a noun (preceded by the article “a”, but that’s not important here).

Next, look at the ending of 4 and notice it too is a noun, or at least, it’s acting that way. “Not a peer” is a thing, namely the set of all things that are not peers”. So that works just like 1/3.

But what about 2? What part of speech is “no peer”? Well it’s a little tricky, but in the context it isn’t really any part of (proper) speech. That’s why the person corrected your original. In the context, “no peer” just isn’t grammatical.

But a caveat, and the trickiness I mentioned. There certainly are contexts in which “no peer” could work. Consider phrases such as:

  • Sure, I’ll help you with your homework, but I warn you I am no mathematician.”

  • “Yes, it’s true that a Lannister always pays their debts, but I’m sorry to have to break it to you, but I am no Lannister!”

Or even the infamous:

Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.

So, I could contrive the following:

Joe Everyman: So I’m guessin’ you must be one o’ them VIP types?

Simon Snooty-Toffingham: Oh good gracious me, you’re very forward aren’t you my good man?

Joe: Ahhh, leave it out guv’ner! You’re a proper toff, aren’t you?

Simon: Well alright, my family does have some standing I suppose.

Joe: Gaarrrn, I knew it! I should be callin’ you Lord I ‘spect?

Simon: [horrified] Oh, no, no, no, no, no! That would be quite inappropriate; why Debrett’s would have such a fit. Certainly I am a baronet, but I’m no peer, and have never claimed to be!

Joe: Eh? That makes no sense! How is it possible to be a baronet and no peer?

But as I say, that’s pretty contrived. And even if I did so contrive, it would be better to say, “How is it possible to be a baronet but no peer?” And then, having gone that far, it would be a small step to recognize that the person who corrected you was giving sound advice when rendering it once more with the “...not a peer” form.

  • I don’t fully understand. It seems like you are leaning towards my original choice, but then you seem to say that person gave sound advice. – Ludi Mar 29 '18 at 12:33
  • No, I’m saying that at a stretch(* I can think of a situation where “no peer”could be regarded as ((not strictly wrong. But even there, it wouldn’t be the best way to say it. Regardless, it’s not the situation you’re in. Overall, the person was right i their suggestion: use “not a peer”, and reject “no peer” – tkp Mar 30 '18 at 3:27

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