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The night was so quiet that not a sound could be heard.

Would you possibly tell me if the following, which I have just written, is correct or not? And could you tell me in what topic of grammar I can find such lessons?

The night was so quiet that a sound could not be heard.

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Both sentences mean more or less the same thing, but, contrary to what Man_From_India says, they are not the same.

The night was so quiet that a sound could not be heard.

This means that if there would be a sound, it could not be heard. This is difficult to imagine, but let's take a more obvious example.

The music was playing so loudly that a speaking voice could not be heard.

vs.

The people were all sleeping, not a voice could be heard.

In the first case, even if someone tried speaking, it could not be heard over the noise of the music. In the second case, even though you would be able to hear the voices if people would speak, nobody actually used their voice, so not a voice was heard.

The original sentence:

The night was so quiet that not a sound could be heard.

Now, we could have heard any sound, because the night was so quiet. But there was not a single sound.

The night was so quiet that a sound could not be heard.

This sentence makes little sense, because the quiet night does not make it impossible to hear a sound that is there. Compare it to the music and the voices.

In practice, many people will ignore this distinction and read over it, understanding the second version to mean the same as the first, especially because the second sentence does not really make much logical sense.

  • I actually didn't say both sentences are the same. In my first quotation I have used "=" sign, but after that I made a note to clear things up. – Man_From_India Apr 8 '14 at 6:51
  • Well, I took the "=" sign to mean what it usually means :) Be aware that more people will tend to do that, and possibly use bold statements like that as " rules". – oerkelens Apr 8 '14 at 6:54
  • I just wanted to rearrange the sentence, and so I used "=" sign. But after the rearrangement the meaning changed, so at the end I put the note clarifying everything :) – Man_From_India Apr 8 '14 at 6:58
  • @Man_From_India You might want to use ⇒ sign instead of = sign for that. "=" means "is equal to". Though to be honest, using words would have been better. – starsplusplus Apr 11 '14 at 13:56
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Actually you have pretty much figured out yourself.

The night was so quiet that not a sound could be heard = The night was so quiet that a sound could not be heard.

Though the second sentence is really a bad one, yet for understanding and grammatical analysis you can arrange it like this. First sentence give a stress on "sound", using the word "not a", whereas in the second sentence "a sound" represents a particular sound, but that is not the case.

If you want to write this sentence correctly, you have to keep in mind the usage of "so...that" and "not a"

So...that - In your example sentence there is an adjective after "so". Here in your case the adjective is "quiet". It means "it's to such extent quiet that the the clause after "that" is true".

Not a/an thing - It's a modifier. It means nothing at all. Here in your sentence it's "not a sound" means "not at all any sound".

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The night was so quiet that a sound could not be heard

Well, I see this in a different way. If the night is so quiet, you should be (in fact) able to hear the sound of a pin-drop. Shouldn't you?

The night was so quiet that you could hear a pin-drop - sounds better to me.

I think if you want to refer to the quietest place or surrounding, you emphasize on hearing even a minute sound rather than giving the reason that there was no sound and thus the place/surrounding was quiet.

My answer is valid only in case if you want to emphasize that the night was as silent as the dead.

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The difference is not in the meaning, the two sentences mean the same, but sentence 2 has no dynamic and is forceless because the main idea is not stressed or emphasized. But in sentence 2 the main idea "not a sound" is forcefully stressed and emphasized. You get this effect by placing "not" in an unusual position. A stylistic device.

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