No smoking is a formula used to indicate smoking is not allowed.

Why can't we use Yes smoking to indicate smoking is allowed? (Although, we might use humorously but I've never heard actually.)

Unlike yes, no can also be an adverb of degree and an adjective.

Here is the etymology of the adjective no from OED:

Variant of none adj. with loss of final -n, used originally before consonants except h, which ultimately became the standard form of the negative determiner except in archaic or poetic use.

Here is an explanation of the adjective (determiner) none from OED:

In later use the form none (or nane, etc.) occurs mainly before vowels and h, and after 1600 is almost entirely supplanted by the reduced form no (nae, etc.): exceptions are the phrase none effect and before other (see sense A. 2, where its survival may be due to interpreting other as postmodifying a pronominal none).

The earliest example where no denotes that something is forbidden or unwelcome is from a1625 according to OED:

Swet. Mercy yet. Bond. No talking: puff, there goes all your pitie.

J. Fletcher Bonduca iv. iv, in F. Beaumont & J. Fletcher Comedies & Trag. (1647) 65

No smoking is a phrase but can be used as an attributive adjective also.

The earliest example of No smoking as a phrase is from 1837 (OED):

No smoking aloud in the cabing [sic]!

W. G. Clark Ollapodiana xxi, in Knickerbocker Dec. 520

The earliest example of No smoking as an adjective is from 1944 (OED):

I wanted to smoke, but fell asleep before the No Smoking sign was switched off.

J. Gunther D Day i. 13,

Etymonline has the following for no-smoking (adj.):

1905; the sign wording itself is attested by 1817.

Smoking is a vice to [sic] -- and a national one, of such magnitude that railroad corporations throughout all their routes in the United States, have a special command in large letters, conspicuously placed at depots and inside of the cars -- "No smoking allowed here." ["The Sailor's Magazine," December 1840]

I've tried to answer my own question and it can be useful for other people but I would like to get some further information on this.

The original sense of the adjective no is not any. I wonder how it evolved to be used in the phrases like no smoking, no pets etc.

Also, "Yes smoking" could be a useful shortcut but didn't become a set phrase. It is related to yes not being an adjective but language evolves. It can be explained regarding evolutionary linguistics as well.

I think we will stick to "Smoking allowed" for now.

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    "No smoking" can be thought of as short for "There is no smoking allowed here". One doesn't say, "There is yes smoking here" They say, "Smoking is permitted here" which can be shortened to "Smoking permitted" or "smoking allowed" etc.
    – Jim
    Nov 4, 2015 at 15:58
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    It certainly is a very old way of expressing e negation or a ban: Construction no X, no Y attested from 1530s (in no peny no pardon). No problem as an interjection of assurance first attested 1963. No way as an expression meaning "it can't be done" is attested by 1968 (no way "by no means" is from c. 1400). etymonline.com/index.php?term=no
    – user66974
    Nov 4, 2015 at 15:58
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    no in this context means not any. It is a determiner: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No
    – njzk2
    Nov 4, 2015 at 18:34
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    I think @njzk2 has the correct idea, and the logic oriented answers are missing the point. "No" is quantifying, as in an amount, rather than a boolean true/false. To demonstrate, "All smoking allowed" is similar. Another example, "there are no apples" is fine, but "yes apples" makes no sense. Nov 4, 2015 at 21:13

3 Answers 3


No as an adjective is used to negate the default state of affirmation. Negation and affirmation are not perfectly equal opposites: in general, a mentioned thing is presumed to exist or be true unless it is explicitly negated. This is admittedly a convention rather than an underlying natural law, but it's one that goes very deep and crosses many cultures and disciplines.

In logic, for example, the statement


is true if x itself is false, and false if x is true. The function word NOT performs the negation. To create the corresponding affirmative statement, we need no function word, and the statement is simply:


which is true if x is true, and false if x is false. Likewise, in programming, a code block that begins with

if (foo)

executes if the variable foo evaluates to true, and does not execute if the variable evaluates to false. Affirmation is the default state, so we do not need an additional operator to "toggle" the state to affirmation. If we want the opposite to occur, we must use a negation operator:

if (!(foo))

where the ! character serves the same purpose as NOT, or as the adjective form of no.

So the reason we don't use yes as an adjective is because it's not needed: its function is served by the absence of no. Now, it's true that a sign that merely says "Smoking" may not be well understood, but that's only because "No Smoking" is not a complete sentence. When we see a "No Smoking" sign, we understand that the message it's really conveying is "No smoking is allowed"--and of course we don't need any form of yes to convey the opposite message, "Smoking is allowed."

  • 2
    I'm not sure I buy this. Consider a place where making a right turn at an intersection when the traffic light is red is forbidden (so "no" is the "default state"). Suppose that there is one intersection in that place where, exceptionally, right turns on red are permitted. Could the intersection be signed "Yes Right Turn On Red"? I don't think so; that sounds incredibly weird to me. (The inverse, "No Right Turn On Red", sounds fine and is in common use across the US. )
    – senshin
    Nov 4, 2015 at 19:46
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    @senshin there is such a place: New York City. One occasionally sees signs permitting a right turn on a red light; these signs of course do not include the word "yes."
    – phoog
    Nov 4, 2015 at 19:49
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    @senshin I think the problem is with the imperative. When you see "No right turn on left", there is a command not to turn. The yes can be interpreted as a mandatory right turn, not an allowed right turn. The same with the sign. No smoking is an order not to smoke. Yes smoking still depends on or willingness to smoke to have an effect. Nov 4, 2015 at 19:50
  • "No Right on Red" only sounds fine in the context, because it is commonplace in the US that right turns on red are explicitly allowed. The only time I could see "Yes Right on Red" making sense if Right on Red is the default, and the certain stretch of road had multiple signs saying "No Right on Red" preceding it. "Right on Red permitted" would make sense in a context where it would normally not be, such as the UK.
    – Vogie
    Nov 4, 2015 at 20:09
  • When I want to show support for what my friend Red has done I sometimes say, "Yes! Right on, Red."
    – Jim
    Nov 5, 2015 at 0:15

We don't see "Yes Smoking" because, where signs are concerned, the opposite of No smoking is Smoking

enter image description here

  • 1
    This seems more like an adjective modifying an assumed noun such as "room" or "cabin."
    – Eric
    Nov 5, 2015 at 0:27
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    why is "wills's gold flake" reversed relative to "smoking"?
    – CupawnTae
    Nov 5, 2015 at 1:05
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    @CupawnTae So those outside know which car to enter, and those inside see the advertisement.
    – Tuesday
    Nov 5, 2015 at 2:34
  • @Eric - You could say exactly the same about 'No Smoking'. Nov 5, 2015 at 2:45
  • @timothymh I guess, I just thought the sign didn't look particularly translucent
    – CupawnTae
    Nov 5, 2015 at 8:20

Since your question is basically "Why doesn't Yes smoking work?" it is helpful to start with yes before moving to no.

Yes is a particle or an interjection, or a noun directly referring to one of these. As such, it is almost always understood as a one-word sentence.

No can be the opposite of yes, but it also has other meanings that can't be negated to yes. No is also a determiner meaning not any and none. The antonyms of these are any and some.

No is also a determiner meaning not any and none.

He has no apples.

Does he not have any apples?

How many apples does he have? None.

Negating these sentences, thereby making them positive again, gives:

He has apples.

Does he have any apples?

How many apples does he have? Some.

So, to negate No smoking by adding another word, you could say Some smoking, but the most normal way is to simply not negate it in the first place: Smoking.

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