Monday 19 March 2012

Usage: "No" & "Not"? Is That Even A Problem?

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Never thought that these two words can be such a big issue. I've got the wind of a claim that English speakers seldom use the word "not" in both spoken and written English, and "no" is a more popular word.

I hope I've got the coldfront. 

I do not agree and I cannot agree.

First of all, talking from a common sense, how can any one language live without the word "not"? It is the basic word for negation, the foundation of logic!! Without "not", there will be no logic!

One might say we can select other words to express the opposite meaning, say, "happy" and "unhappy", "legal" and "illegal", "possible" and "impossible", but can you always do without the word "not"?

Just look at my earlier underlined sentence, how can I not use the word "not"? Use contractions?

"I don't agree and I can't agree."

You are still using "not" even though you don't sound it.

Next, the claim that "no" is a more popular word than "not" has to be proven in the form of Corpus Linguistics. However, I find that hard to agree on the claim simply because it is almost impossible to document the enough unbiased samples to reach such conclusion.

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For example, if a researcher collects formal emails or reports, then "not" will definitely have a much higher frequency than "no" as "no" is limited by one sentence structure in formal writing.


  1. Our company does not hold responsibility for any loss or.... ("not" sentence, after auxiliary "do")
  2. Our firm not only provides A but also B...  ("not" sentence, before a verb)
  3. The board of management has decided not to continue with the pursuit of ...  ("not" sentence, after a verb)
  4. There is no ground for such claim. ("no" sentence, before a noun)
How about in spoken English?

When someone asks you a Yes/No question, you can of course answer "Yes" or "No", and "not" will appear if someone uses "Not correct" or  which is not preferred generally as "Incorrect" sounds smoother and shorter, other choices are "Negative", "Nope", "Absolutely not" and many many more.

When collecting samples in order to determine more "no" or more "not", how is a researcher going to select his data without bias? For spoken English, which country's English speakers? Born native or proficient but not born native? What community? What situations? What occasions? What formality? And finally, what frequency?
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As teachers, making claims without detailed proof and research and teaching students what they "think" is correct is absolutely unprofessional. As a learner, we are bound to be influenced by correct and incorrect teaching, you should all bear in mind this fact and always think through the logic twice or thrice before having a concept inculcated into your head. 

Asking more is the key to great learning, don't learn blindly.

to get wind of sth -- see Slang: Red Hot Hong Kong Slang's English Equivalent (Updated)
Corpus linguistics -- (n)[U] the study of language as expressed in samples (corpora) or "real world" text.
formality -- (n) [U] when something or someone is serious and correct
inculcate -- (vb)  [T] formal to fix beliefs or ideas in someone's mind, especially by repeating them often


Slang: Red Hot Hong Kong Slang's English Equivalent (Updated) @ Locky's English Playground