What are the similarities and differences? When are they interchangeable and not?

I ask my question in general, but thought to offer an esoteric example, which I chose because its difficulty enticed me. Source: p 249, Critique of Pure Reason, Volume 2, by Immanuel Kant.

If we only mean objects of a non-sensuous intuition, to which our categories do not apply and of which we can have no knowledge whatever (either intuitional or conceptual), there is no reason why noumena, in this merely negative meaning, should not be admitted, because ...

  • Helpful reading - 1, 2, 3 Mar 7, 2015 at 4:08
  • @Man_From_India Thank you for your links. Does 2 truly answer my question? It only presents the two options as in my OP above; it doesn't discriminate between them?
    – user8712
    Mar 7, 2015 at 4:25
  • Well the first link is the most informative, and the third one shows the differences. As for third link, I just added it if you need :-) you can skip it as well :-) Mar 7, 2015 at 4:29
  • Just when you think you understand negation in English, along comes a question like this.
    – Ben Kovitz
    Mar 12, 2015 at 23:17

3 Answers 3


Consider the case of negating the statement There is a reason for this. One way to do it would be There is no reason for this - here, you're negating the noun. You could also say There isn't a reason for this - here, you're negating the verb. It's true that "isn't" expands to "is not", so you get "not a reason" in the middle, but it's important to understand that the "not" is attached to the verb ("is"), not to the noun ("a reason").

With that understanding, we can spot a broader pattern

  • You are no friend of mine OR You are not a friend of mine.
  • She was no specialist in that area OR She was not a specialist in that area.

Does that help?


There was not an eye in the room that was dry after her heart-wrenching performance.
No eye in the room was dry after her heart-wrenching performance.
There was not a dry eye in the room after her heart-wrenching performance.

There's not a country on the planet that will take him in.
No country on the planet will take him in.

At the logical level, they're indistinguishable. The difference is a matter of style and register. As such, the question touches upon literary interpretation, which is off-topic, and so I won't go there.


As has been pointed out in the two excellent answers already given, there is no difference in substantive meaning.

There may be a slight difference in emphasis.

There isn’t a reason

strikes me as slightly more neutral then

There is no reason

but that may just be a personal idiosyncrasy.

To know what Kant intended, you would need to look at the original German and ask someone knowledgeable about any difference in meaning between “kein” and “nicht.”

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