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?

  • 2
    I have no hesitation about assuring you that there is no solecism here, and no reason to cavil. – StoneyB on hiatus Jan 22 '13 at 11:19
  • 1
    @StoneyB; No doubt you are correct, but isn't that no hesitation in assuring you? – Tim Lymington 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 on hiatus 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

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’.

  • 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

Treatments differ in expressions of zero quantity: English often uses the plural in such expressions as no injuries and zero points, although no (and zero in some contexts) may also take a singular.

  • Hello, Adam. Can you give examples where '[in] English ... no (and zero in some contexts) may also take a singular'? In expressions like 'There is no rice left', 'rice' is a mass usage rather than a singular count usage. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 25 '15 at 15:20

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