Is there a specific rule, or set of rules, that can be followed to know when to use each word? I have noticed that not is usually used with a verb, but I think that there sometimes are exceptions although I can't think of one now.
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Not is a negative adverb; no is a negative quantifier; non- is a negative prefix.
Since negation is so important, thousands of idioms use each of these, among other negatives.
Consequently there are lots of exceptions to the general rules below.
Non- is not a word, but a part of another word, usually a descriptive adjective:
non-lethal, non-professional, non-native, non-technical, non-playing
(The hyphen is optional.) Each of these mean "anything but ..." -- anything that doesn't
kill you is non-lethal, anything that's not technical is non-technical, etc.
This meaning contrasts with un- and in-, which refer to opposites instead of complements.
No is half of the answer pair Yes/No, shading off vocally into Nah, Nuh-uh, and Uh-uh.
But it can also quantify and negate any noun phrase:
Some blade of grass ~ No blade of grass; One who saw it ~ No one who saw it.
Not is the general negator for verb phrases, including predicate adjectives and nouns.
In a verb phrase, not occurs immediately after the first auxiliary verb.
If there is no auxiliary verb in the verb phrase, Do-Support supplies a form of do.
Not is contracted whenever possible, with auxiliaries or subjects (especially pronouns):
He's not interested ~ He isn't interested; She doesn't like it, but not *She not likes it.
Any of these negatives (and many others) can negate a sentence, changing its truth value.
It's easy to switch between them, too; the sentences below all mean the same thing:
- They allowed no phone calls.
- They didn't allow phone calls.
- No one allowed phone calls.
- Phone calls weren't allowed.
All of them have different usages and can quite clearly defined in that different contexts.
Some example sentences for no:
As for the drink, there was no point in bringing that up.
Carmen had given Josh no encouragement.
Some examples sentences for not:
I'm not too keen on that decision.
That I am not prepared to say.
Some example sentences for non as a prefix
After quite some time searching I couldn't find any rules in which those words obey to. As you can see in my linked sites though there are quite a few entries in which not is before a verb and little of any others. This is hard to draw a conclusion to make a hard and fast rule.
As you can see, it is quite defined in which each word is used. I can't think of any that could be used interchangeably at the moment. I'll accept suggestions to improve this.