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I read the article below.

Henry had no brothers and no sisters. "I want a brother," he told this parents. "Sorry," they said.
Henry had no friends on his street. "I want to live on a different street," he told his parents. "Sorry," they said.
Henry had no pets at home. "I want to have a dog," he told his parents. "Sorry," they almost said. But first they look at their house with no brothers and sisters. Then they looked at their street with no children. Then they looked at Henry's face. Then they looked at each other. "Okay," they said.

Is "no brothers and no sisters" equivalent to "no brothers and sisters"?

  • @snailboat. I will double check it. I reproduced form the original text. Wait for a sec. – user48070 Aug 2 '13 at 8:38
  • @snailboat.Maybe I don't pay that much attention on the spacing,but the content is the same.Where are the errors. – user48070 Aug 2 '13 at 8:48
  • @snailboat Since the question is not about the spacing used in the quote, I took the freedom to add the spaces where they were needed. Getting a more readable text is more important than exactly quoting the original text. – kiamlaluno Aug 2 '13 at 10:12
  • @snailboat I know, but the question is not about using look or looked, or finding any grammar mistake in the text. Sure, the text as it is makes me wonder if it is has been written by a native speaker. Only the OP knows if that is a typo he introduced when quoting the text, or that is the exact text he read. – kiamlaluno Aug 2 '13 at 10:18
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It is common to see no brothers or sisters as a way to say that someone is an only child. The way it is said in your quote, no brothers and no sisters, is less common but it emphasizes the fact that there are no other children. These two phrases, no brothers or sisters and no brothers and no sisters are equivalent. However, no brothers and sisters is not equivalent.


If you are familiar with first-order logic from mathematics, or Boolean algebra from a computer class, this is an example in English grammar of De Morgan's laws. De Morgan's laws are basically a set of rules specifying how a negation distributes to multiple objects.

If p represents brothers and q represents sisters, then in logic the phrase no brothers and no sisters would be ~p AND ~q. In logic, this is equivalent by one of De Morgan's laws to ~(p OR q), which we say in English as no brothers or sisters.

Please note that English grammar and syntax does not always follow the rules of logic, I only used it as a way to illustrate the grammar rule for this simple case.

  • Your answer is completely correct (i.e., what you above the horizontal line), but your attempted application of logic to language is completely misguided ... many times when you attempt to apply logic to language, you end up with nonsense. They just happen to give the same answer in this case. – Peter Shor Aug 2 '13 at 12:24
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    Yes, in general English grammar and syntax does not follow logical rules. However, for basic examples involving negations (such as the OP's question), De Morgan's law does provide a good guideline. It can never be a hard and fast rule of course, but much like the "I before E except after C" mantra it's a starting point which may prove useful for learners. I do however take your point, and I should add a notation in my answer stating that using logic in this way is only a guide and not a truth. – Walter Aug 2 '13 at 13:35
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no brothers and no sisters is not equivalent to no brother and sisters.

"Henry had no brothers and no sisters" is clear. It means "Henry was an only child." A shorter way to express it with equal clarity would be, "Henry had no brothers or sisters."

"Henry had no brother and sisters" causes a problem because brother is singular and sisters is plural. As a result, it's unclear whether "no" applies to "brother" only, or to "brother and sisters," so the sentence could be (mis-)interpreted as, "Henry had no brothers and an unspecified number of sisters."

  • @FrankH.Sorry, I make a error here. My question should be: Is "no brothers and no sisters" equivalent to "no brothers and sisters"? I omitted the "s" after no brother. – user48070 Aug 2 '13 at 10:11
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    @user48070, I don't think it makes a huge difference to my answer. "no brothers and sisters" is still open to misinterpretation but perhaps not to the same extent as "no brother and sisters". – Frank H. Aug 2 '13 at 10:59

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