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Are the expressions "This doesn't make sense" and "This makes no sense" equivalents? If not, what's the difference?

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  • They are essentially the same.
    – Mynamite
    Commented Jan 15, 2015 at 22:59
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    I think the second is an emphatic conclusion where the first could be more of a questioning.."what am I misunderstanding" statement. But it could be a conclusion as well.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Jan 15, 2015 at 23:07
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    They mean the same thing but to me they have slightly different tones. This makes no sense is more emphatic and confrontational, largely because it's the less-used construct. Commented Jan 15, 2015 at 23:15
  • The main difference is style. Some people tend to assert negatives. I'm reminded of how robots in sci-fi don't use contractions.
    – IchabodE
    Commented Jan 17, 2015 at 0:18

2 Answers 2

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At a first approximation they mean the same thing, but there is an important difference.

"This doesn't make sense" is simply pointing out an inconsistency in whatever is being discussed. Eg, perhaps a column of numbers does not add correctly. Or, alternatively, it could be pointing out that phrase or sentence is somehow garbled and hard to understand.

"This makes no sense" is saying that substantial parts of the materials being discussed are inconsistent or impossible to understand. In essence it's saying "This is nonsense".

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  • So "This makes no sense" is very close to "This doesn't make any sense". The latter is weaker, though.
    – john c. j.
    Commented Sep 23, 2020 at 16:33
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These phrases are equivalent in meaning and a google ngram query indicates roughly the same frequency of usage.

Oldcat's comment does reveal a subtle distinction if you require emphasis.

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  • Nice reference to the ngram viewer. Commented Jan 15, 2015 at 23:19
  • Thanks, but I failed to insert the graph in the answer field, which is really what I was after.
    – user98990
    Commented Jan 15, 2015 at 23:22

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