I was asked today whether

In order to make no mistakes

was correct. I said yes, but that I found it a bit strange and that I would rather use

In order not to make mistakes

The outcome is the same, but I sense a difference in meaning. Is there really one?

  • 3
    The second expresses a purpose to avoid a number of possible mistakes. The first expresses a purpose to avoid even one, first mistake. – Brian Donovan Jun 11 '15 at 14:37
  • @BrianDonovan Would they be equivalent if the second said not to make any mistakes? – Barmar Jun 11 '15 at 15:18
  • 1
    @Barmar, yes, I should think so, but then the second becomes the wordier option for saying the same thing.(The first has a nice anapestic rhythm going on, too, don't you think?) – Brian Donovan Jun 11 '15 at 16:42
  • 1
    Negatives, like other operators in English, may be placed immediately before their focussed constituent (like the NP mistakes here), or immediately before any constituent that contains the focussed constituent (like the VP make mistakes here). When it's used as a determiner in a noun phrase, the negative form is no; but when it's an adverb modifying a VP, it's not. If you know German, no as a noun modifier works just like kein, but the construction isn't nearly as common in English as it is in German. – John Lawler Jun 11 '15 at 17:29

Both sentences are grammatically correct and acceptable.

"In order to make no mistakes" implies that you have a target of zero mistakes, which isn't as strict as the latter.

  • 1
    Another expression to consider would be "in order to avoid mistakes". – rogermue Jun 11 '15 at 17:18
  • That was my feeling too, but I could not express it in words. Thank you! – laureapresa Jun 12 '15 at 7:26

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