I was not sure I should use a plural or singular noun in a negative sentence.

But later, I thought it might depend on the context.

Do you think my explanation below is correct?

Example 1:

A: I have many books. Do you have books?

B: I don't have books. I prefer watching TV.

meaning: B has zero books.

Example 2:

A: We still need to wait 2 hours for the flight. Do you have a book?

B: I don't have a book. You can take a short nap.

meaning: B has zero books with him.

Example 3:

Maybe a plural noun can be taken literally to make a joke

A: I have many books. Do you have books?

B: No, I don't have books. I have one book only.

meaning: B has one book only.

  • 1
    Nothing wrong with the grammar but they're stilted conversations. Why doesn't B just say, "No I haven't"? Commented Jul 9, 2021 at 4:10
  • 1
    All of your meanings are correct, and sound natural to me.
    – randomhead
    Commented Jul 9, 2021 at 4:16
  • 1
    I disagree with both comments - none of this sounds natural, and is mostly poor grammar at best, which makes it difficult to answer the main point.
    – MikeB
    Commented Jul 9, 2021 at 10:22
  • 2
    "I don't have books" sounds as though the speaker avoids having them in the house on principle! "I don't have many books" (or "I don't have any books" if they really have none at all) would be more natural. Commented Jul 9, 2021 at 10:40

1 Answer 1


Example 1: Both occurrences of "books" should be "any books." As in "Do you have any books?"

Example 2: Both sides are OK. The answer might be better as "I don't have any books."

Example 3: The question should be re-written as "Do you have any books?" And the answer as "I have only one book."

Heh. I'm re-watching a TV version of the classic Chinese novel "Three Kingdoms." The character Zhuge Liang claims to be able to memorize all books on one reading, and so to have only one book, the almanac. Because a recluse such as him could not remember what day it was.

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