I researched help and examples on the uses of the word nay but found these inadequate/insubstantial.

The Free Dictionary has described:

  1. an archaic or dialect (except in voting by voice) word for no
  2. (noun) a. a person who votes in the negative b. a negative vote
  3. (adverb) (sentence modifier) an emphatic form of no

as an instance for an adverb, I found the following line:

and not only so but; not only that but also; indeed: many good, nay, noble qualities.

I see nay in the latter example as one that contains a compound connotation(s.) so could the same example be re-written in the following ways?

a)"not only did he have (many) good qualities, he had noble ones too" or

b)"not only were his qualities good, they were noble too"

I'm very uncertain and critical as to how nay is understood to describe the situations a) and b) because I understood all along that nay was another word for no.

I'm looking for a detailed review and examples of the meaning and utilisation of nay

  • 1
    That's right, your A and B adequately describe what many good, nay, noble qualities means. The distinction between A and B is too subtle to be significant here. Mar 27, 2014 at 18:05
  • @Effector, it seems you accidentally attempted to edit the two answers that were given here in order to thank the posters. Doing so is a nice courtesy, but it is not necessary—instead, you should upvote their answers if you find them helpful, and accept the best one as the correct answer. Once you have a higher rep score, you will be able to post comments on questions, too, so you don’t accidentally edit your thanks into the answer itself. Mar 30, 2014 at 19:42
  • indeed my friend :) Mar 30, 2014 at 19:50

2 Answers 2


This is from Oxford Dictionaries. It is interesting that it mentions nothing about voting. In the House of Commons, 'nay' is not used, but 'aye' is. When the Speaker calls a division he shouts 'Ayes' to the left, 'noes' to the right.


1 Or rather (used to emphasize a more appropriate word than one just used): permission to build the superstore will take months, nay years

2 • archaic or • dialect No: nay, I must not think thus MORE EXAMPLE SENTENCES NOUN

Back to top
A negative answer: the cabinet sits to give the final yea or nay to policies MORE EXAMPLE SENTENCES Origin

Middle English (in sense 2 of the adverb): from Old Norse nei, from ne 'not' + ei 'ever' (compare with aye


In the (rather old-fashioned sounding) sentence

He has many good – nay, noble – qualities.

the classification of 'nay' (or 'no' in modern English) as an adverb is traditionalist laxity. It signals an adjustment to what is being said in the proposition, an external aid to the listener/reader provided by the speaker/reader. It is a pragmatic marker, specifically a corrective (or, as it is a minor adjustment here, a modificational) pragmatic marker. A true corrective marker usage would be:

He's twenty-eight – no/sorry/correction, eighty-two – next week.

Nothing like the function of an adverb. It's equivalent to crossing out the inaccurate term and writing in the correct one.

  • I understand what you mean by traditionalist "laxity" (although I don't see what's wrong with classifying a large number of words as adverbs and then using subgroups conforming to more recent terminology). However, in traditional grammar, this nay is not an adverb, but an interjection, just like the typical ones no, yes, oh, ouch, etc. The Free Dictionary has it wrong. Mar 30, 2014 at 22:52
  • Oxford Dictionaries, M-W, AHDEL, Collins and RHK Webster's all say adverb. Macmillans says interjection, which I'll agree makes rather more sense. Though it would be more difficult to say the almost equivalent 'He has many good – or rather, noble – qualities' contains an interjection. // I subscribe to the school that says that lumping 'the rest' alongside true modifiers of verbs is poor scholarship. Stripping some 'adverbs' out into a rather large class called "pragmatic markers", with quite a few subclasses, is, I believe, at least a step in the right direction. Mar 30, 2014 at 23:45
  • I agree that interjection makes more sense, and those dictionaries should reconsider their categorisation. I do not believe in a theory saying that, when a certain word can be replaced with a certain phrase in a certain context without loss of meaning, that it should then in all cases have the same syntactic function. This is sometimes justified, but often creeps into the realm of semantics rather too far (small forays are allowed). // What does it matter when you include or exclude those subgroups from a category "adverbs"? The exact same functionality is retained in either case. Mar 31, 2014 at 4:54
  • Why not include them in nouns or adjectives? Their functions are miles away from the modifying of a verb. It took far too long for determiners (determinatives by some) to be recognised as vastly different from the adjectives they were once lumped with. Mar 31, 2014 at 15:31
  • I understand your argument about adverbs being rather...broad, and that "modifying a verb" can be a bit vague. But you're not being fair when you say that words like frankly could just as well be classified as nouns as as adverbs. For one thing, there are the formal characteristics. Disjuncts like this one are in many languages formally like adverbs, with -ly or -ter or -ôs or whichever suffix is used to mark adverbs in a language. Secondly, such words were originally and typically used with finite verbs in the first person, modifying them as in "frankly I think...". Mar 31, 2014 at 17:36

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