Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Is "make no mistake" proper grammar?

Isn't "no" being used as a quantifier? Aren't quantified nouns supposed to be plural when the quantity is none? For example, I was taught to say, "one egg" and "zero eggs". So, I might conclude that "make a mistake" and "make no mistakes" is also correct.

What am I missing?

share|improve this question
2  
I have no hesitation about assuring you that there is no solecism here, and no reason to cavil. –  StoneyB Jan 22 '13 at 11:19
1  
@StoneyB; No doubt you are correct, but isn't that no hesitation in assuring you? –  TimLymington Jan 22 '13 at 11:33
    
@TimLymington Hmm... I certainly displayed no hesitation in assuring OP; and I did not then hesitate over my choice of prepositions; but now you've got me floundering. They all sound wrong. :) –  StoneyB Jan 22 '13 at 11:45
1  
You have no objects, if the objects can be plural in this specific context. If the choice is between zero and one, you have no object. In particular, there is one particular mistake you shouldn't make, for which clarification follows the expression. You still can make all kinds of other mistakes. "There is no egg in the egg cup." - you can't fit more than one anyway. –  SF. Jan 22 '13 at 11:53
    
@StoneyB: Prepositions are meaningless unless they aren't. In this case, they are, so they're both right. Consider all this in a new light {at / on / over / during} the weekend. –  user21497 Jan 22 '13 at 12:04
add comment

1 Answer

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Both are grammatical, but they mean different things. If I tell you to make no mistakes I am instructing you to perform something perfectly. Make no mistake, on the other hand, means ‘have no doubt’.

share|improve this answer
1  
Yes, because it's an idiom & not subject to the rules that govern determiners. Similarly, "Make any mistake [even one] & you're dead" & "Make any mistakes [one or more] & you're dead" are both perfectly grammatical. "Make no mistake & you win" & "Make no mistakes & you win" are also perfectly grammatical & mean the same thing. And not all determiners are numerical. –  user21497 Jan 22 '13 at 12:05
    
@Bill Franke. There were once public signs in the UK warning us to Commit No Nuisance. (I always took them to mean ‘don’t pee against the wall’.) –  Barrie England Jan 22 '13 at 12:12
    
Yes, it probably did mean that. As John Lawler has pointed out here a number of times, sentences with negatives are sometimes very complicated grammatically & don't always follow garden variety rules. –  user21497 Jan 22 '13 at 12:25
    
Barrie, I'm accepting your answer in convert with Bill's caveat that idioms can be exceptions. I hadn't considered that. At the same time, I have also up-voted SF's comment above because it makes sense to me. It seems the phrase doesn't stand alone without an implied assumption, thought, conclusion, etc. and that one or more of them could potentially be in error. –  IAmNaN Jan 23 '13 at 2:52
    
On bridges in my Australian city are signs 'post no bills' in much the same context. –  amanda witt Jan 28 '13 at 3:28
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.