7

I wonder what differences a native speaker could point out between these three sentences.

1) There is not an apple on the table.

2) There is no apple on the table.

3) There is not any apple on the table.

3

They all sound like answers to questions.

1) There is not an apple on the table.

I would say that someone claimed that there was an apple on the table. 'Is there an apple on the table?'

2) There is no apple on the table.

'Why is there an apple on the table?'

3) There is not any apple on the table.

'Whose apple is that on the table?'

All the questions and answers sound slightly different if the questioner has been told there is a piece of fruit on the table.

3

All three sentences mean about the same thing. Sentences #1 and #2 are grammatically correct; in some contexts they are even natural. Sentence #3 is awkward. Sentences #1 and #2 imply that the speaker is talking about a single, whole apple.

Sentence #3 would be less awkward if the speaker was talking about hypothetical smashed up bits of apple -- in other words, apple material. Sentence #2 is also consistent with the meaning of apple material.

Sentences #1 and #2 are natural responses to the questions

"Is there an apple on the table?" or
"Where did my apple go? Is it on the table?"

"Your apple is not on the table.", "Your apple isn't on the table.", "Your apple fell on the floor.", and "I haven't seen your apple." are also natural responses to the latter question.

Sentence #3 is an awkward response to the question "Are there any apples on the table?" "There are no apples on the table." is a natural response to this question. As ESN points out, "There aren't any apples on the table." is even more natural. As hunter points out, contractions are normally used in informal speech.

  • 2
    I think 3 sounds awkward only because is and not are usually contracted. If you said "hand me the apple," I said "wwhich one?" and you said "the one on the table," I think I would respond "there isn't any apple on the table." – hunter Mar 10 '15 at 6:43
  • 2
    To me the first sentence seems to imply there is something else on the table. – user541686 Mar 10 '15 at 6:54
  • 1
    The context of the first, to sound fully natural, would need to be quite specific - a shock at the lack of apples. "You said there was still a full basket of apples left! There's not an apple on the table!" (meaning not even one apple left, someone ate them all). – SF. Mar 10 '15 at 9:55
  • #1 is more awkward than #3 – user6951 Mar 10 '15 at 11:47
  • Sentence three is also grammatically correct, though as you note, "there are not any apples on the table" is the more likely response. – Esoteric Screen Name Mar 10 '15 at 13:27
2

Nick B is correct about #3. All three sentences are perfectly possible and natural speech. We see here the basic principles of singular versus plural, single item versus category, with definite and indefinite articles performing their respective and predictable roles in English grammar.

1) There is not an apple on the table. /// No.1 is an emphatic answer to questions of this type - "Is there an apple on the table?" ; "Isn't there an apple on the table?" So I want to know about quantity, singular - about one apple, but it is not a specific apple - I want to know about "an" apple, any apple at all, but quantity=singular.

2) There is no apple on the table. /// No.2 is possible in response to two situations a) a statement of fact that answers questions of this type - "Did I put an/the apple on the table?" "Didn't I put an/the apple on the table?" So I want to know about quantity, singular - about one apple, a specific apple - I want to know about "the" apple, the specific apple I have in mind, but quantity=singular. b) The lack of qualifier also leaves room to interpret the idea of apple as substance, as Nick B said - apple as "name of category". In this instance the context is, "we've got the bananas, the oranges, but there is no apple." So here the lack of a definite or indefinite article (modern grammar also says 'qualifier') is used to refer to "apple" as a category of fruit, and not a thing you can count as one or more individual apples. So it is close to non-standard use, since it is more standard to say "apples" to refer to the category. But there are some native speakers, in rare instances, who might say "We've got the banana, the orange, but there is no apple." This non-standard use could give the feeling of using the fruit to create an effect of color on the plate, to give one example. Non-standard use is often used in a pseudo-theatrical "Distancing Effect" by the native speaker.

3) There is not any apple on the table. /// No.3 cannot be used when referring to one or more pieces of uncut fruit. The use of "any" and apple in singular means we cannot count here - so the sentence can only refer to apple in quantity - in sauce, in cut up pieces, and so on. To understand, think of the sentence "There aren't any apples on the table." This can only refer to 2 or more uncut apples.

A brilliant reference book for this sort of thing is 'R A Close', 'A Reference Grammar for Students of English' here http://tinyurl.com/q7flgkd

  • I wonder if this is really true: "There is not any apple on the table. /// No.3 cannot be used when referring to one or more pieces of uncut fruit. The use of "any" and apple in singular means we cannot count here" -- Do you mean that every sentence that begins with "There isn't any man/woman/person who ..." is ungrammatical? – Damkerng T. Mar 11 '15 at 11:58
  • @DamkerngT.: I think the use of the singular with "any" works in some contexts describing individuals, but generally in cases involving multiple qualifiers: "There isn't any man here that do that, but there is one at our other office." I think the use of "any" helps the listener know to that "here" doesn't mark the end of a complete thought. – supercat Apr 13 '15 at 18:00
0

Example 3 must refer to apple as a sauce, compote or even a paint colour i.e. not a collection of discrete objects, because of the use of the singular "is" and "apple" used in conjunction with "any". "There aren't any apples on the table" is the form I would use to tell somebody about the absence of apples on the table. It would be more natural than "there isn't an apple on the table" except in response to something like, "have you seen that apple on the table?".

The construction "there isn't an apple on the table" can be used to emphasise the total absence of apples where you might expect to find at least a few. A more likely example is, "he didn't have a hair on his head".

  • To me, There is not any apple on the table (that I can see) can refer to the absence of a single, whole apple. (Native American English speaker) – user6951 Mar 10 '15 at 12:37
0

1) There's not an apple on the table.

2) There's not any apple on the table.

3) There is no apple on the table.

All these sentences are grammatically correct and make sense. If somebody asks you to pass him the apple on the table, your answer can be one of the above sentences. All these sentences convey the same negative meaning, with the subtle difference that the second sentence with the use of "any" is emphatic compared to the first sentence. As for the third sentence with the use of "no", it's more emphatic than the second one.

0

The second one says there are zero apples on the table while the first one can reflect another meaning.

"There is not an apple on the table."

may reflect there is something (like mango or orange) to which you are pointing and that is not an apple.

Third one shows more "strong confirmation." It means there is 100% guarantee of absence of an apple on the table.

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