In English, there are at least two ways to express negation, for example:
— I don't have money
— I have no money

— No objects were found
— Objects were not found

— No restrictions are applied
— Restrictions are not applied


  1. What is the difference between these two forms?
  2. Is it only the matter of style or there is more significant differences in the meaning of the sentences?
  3. When should we use the first one form and when the second?
  4. Do these two forms stress a difference between British and US English?
  • 1
    It's also worth noting that some of these examples may not mean the same thing. What if a store employee is tasked with looking through the lost-and-found bin for a customer's missing wallet and jacket? "Objects were not found" means that the specific items (wallet, jacket) were not found. "No objects were found" might be taken to mean that the lost-and-found box is empty. I suppose this might be a tricky case since it depends on context, however.
    – user22138
    Aug 2, 2013 at 12:56
  • 1
    Then there's litotes, known for its back-handed positivity (or negation of the positive through negativity). My favorite is Jesus' quotation of a proverb that was common in first-century Palestine: "A prophet is not without honor except in his own country." Aug 24, 2013 at 15:28
  • 2) ... a matter of style or is there a significant difference in meaning between the two sentences? 3) When should we use the first form... (I've only suggested these corrections because I see you've recently edited the question) Please, don't be offended.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Apr 12, 2015 at 7:09

3 Answers 3


There are many differences between the couplets you mentioned, but it's hard to find a general rule that governs those differences. The root cause is, as Zibbobz mentions, that the negation is applied to different parts of the sentence, but the result is different in every case.

For instance, in your third example, first sentence, there are no restrictions which are applied, as opposed to the second sentence, where it's implied that restrictions do exist, but are not applied. In this case, it's because "Restrictions" are the subject of the sentence.

Your second exampleis a bit similar. "Objects were not found" could imply that the objects that were known to be there weren't found, as opposed to the first, which just implies that nothing was found, without implying anything about their existence.

In your first example, however, both sentences are more similar, but could still have nuances. The first might imply that you don't have money for something specific, or not have money on you at the moment, while the second might imply more of a general condition. Again, these are nuances, and can change depending on context.

So the answers to your question are:

  1. The difference depends on the sentence.
  2. Yes, the difference is more than stylistic
  3. Depending on what you want to convey. Language can be tricky.

Old question, but:

In modern English, a sentence is negated by following the auxiliary verb (helper verb) by "not".

I will arrive soon

I will not arrive soon

When there is no auxiliary verb, "do" must be inserted as a "dummy" auxiliary verb, and then negated

I like cheese

I do not like cheese

However, there is one exception to this, and unfortunately the exception (as is usually the case with English verbs) is the most common one, to be. To be is negated simply by adding "not" after it, even when it is the lexical (main) verb.


I am happy

I am not happy

So, in modern English, neither of the following are correct:

I like not cheese

I do not be happy

This should clear up the difference between "I don't have money" and "restrictions are not applied."

As for

I have no money

Rather than negating the verb have, no is modifying money


I have no money

I have some money

I have a lot of money

It just so happens that [have] [no money] and [do not have] [money] have the same meaning.

Another sentence like

She runs quickly

can have the verb negated the normal way (for be):

She doesn't run quickly

but you can't say

She runs no quickly

because "no quickly" isn't a valid construction. You'd have to say something like

She runs slowly

She runs the opposite of quickly (unnatural)


What we have here is a case of different parts of speech.

In the first case, "don't" (do not) is used to modify the verb "have", and "no" is used to modify the noun money.

In the second case, the word "no" is used to modify the verb "objects", and the word "not" is used to modify the verb "found".

And in the last case, the word "no" is used to modify the noun "restrictions", and the word "not" is used to modify the verb "applied".

What this boils down to is no and not are different parts of speech.

"No" is an adjective, and can modify a noun or a verb. "No Shirts" is valid, as is "No Running". It is an adjective.

"Not" is an adverb, and can modify a verb, adjective or other adverb. "Not wearing a shirt", "That shirt is not purple", "that person is not very good ('very' is being modified here)".

This means that, occasionally, the two will intersect. "No wearing shirts" and "Not wearing shirts" are both valid, but mean different things. "No" in this case is an instruction, and "Not" in this case describes the status of the individual without a a shirt. So not only are they different parts of speech, but the words themselves mean different things, despite both being negations.

  • 1
    Apparently this answer was not very well-recieved. Could someone please tell me why? I'm genuinely curious how I got this wrong.
    – Zibbobz
    Aug 26, 2013 at 13:05

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