Difference between “without” and “with no”

What is the difference between the usage of without and with no? For example, without sound and with no sound.

• I think the difference is the same there is between "it was no easy task persuading her," and " it was not an easy task persuading her." – kiamlaluno Aug 29 '11 at 8:03
• And what is the difference between "it was no easy task persuading her,"and " it was not an easy task persuading her."? – Alexandra Aug 30 '11 at 5:36
• Negation can either attach to "with", giving "without", or to "any", giving "no". In dialects allowing multiple expression of negation, negation can attach to both, giving "without no". – Greg Lee Jun 8 '15 at 2:04
• "without" can also be used as the opposite of "within", i.e. to mean outside. This usage is somewhat archaic, though. – xorsyst Apr 10 '17 at 13:37

There's no difference in meaning between "without xxx" and "with no xxx", but the former is far more common. For example, "walked with no haste" gets only 3 hits in Google Books, whereas "walked without haste" gets 5310 (an extreme example, but the preference is always there).

The other main difference in usage is we tend to avoid "with no xxx" with gerunds (verb +ing). (Note how "with no caring" virtually "flatlines" on this graph).

I would say that the "no x" formulation is a more emphatic expression of "without x". "Without" expresses the importance of x in a negative fashion, while the "no x" expresses it affirmatively...the former expresses (merely) that x should not be present, while the latter expresses the positive absence of the existence of x.

Overall, it's pretty subtle.

• Thanks a lot :) What do you mean by "the positive absence of the existence of x"? – Alexandra Aug 30 '11 at 5:44
• It's the difference between "he's not here" and "he's absent". – Chris B. Behrens Aug 30 '11 at 15:05
• Chris, are you a linguist? If yes, can you recommend me anything to read on this topic? – Alexandra Sep 1 '11 at 4:40
• Nope, just an enthusiast. I seem to remember something along these lines in "The Language Instinct" by Steven Pinker, though I can't recall where, precisely. – Chris B. Behrens Sep 1 '11 at 19:25

Although there is very little difference in the OPs particular example, there is, in fact, a very significant difference!

There is little difference between 'without water', and 'with no water'. Without and with are both prepositions. When we are using 'without X' to mean there was no X at all, there is little difference in meaning between this and 'with no X'.

However, we cannot always use 'with no student', to replace for example 'without a student'. Sometimes we can use a to mean a specific item that is being thought of by the listener but is not identifiable to the listener. For example, if we were on a coach tour and Bob hadn't boarded and the coach left without him, then we could say:

• We realised we'd left without a student.

but we could not say:

• We realised we'd left with no student(s).

This would mean there were no students on the bus.

Really this is not quite the same thing grammatically as in the 'without sound', 'with no sound' example. We have replaced a with no as well as replacing without with with. The word no is a determiner. Determiners are words like a, the, some, any, this, that.

We actually cannot replace without with with no if the noun phrase already has a determiner:

• without the book
• *with no the book
• without some help
• *with no some help

The meaning of the phrase will also change if there is a number in determiner function:

• without two friends
• with no two friends.

The reason that this doesn't matter in the Original Poster's example, is that sound is being used as a non-count mass noun, and so doesn't need a determiner in the first phrase.

Mayhap others will have other differences, but I only can point out one difference in usage.

In the following sentence:

He achieved this with no mean effort.

"Without" would have a different meaning. "With no" here has the meaning that the fellow put a lot of effort. "Without" couldn't have been used here.

That's the only difference I could point out.

• Interesting :) But don't you think that in this sentence "no mean" is an expression in which these two words go together and it doesn't mean a negation? – Alexandra Aug 30 '11 at 5:46

With no is the common usage in American English. Americans say, "I want water with no ice" rather than without ice, though both mean the same thing.

I'm probably wrong but with to me suggest an addition to something. Hence to me it is coffee with sugar or coffee without sugar although coffee with no sugar might be widely used and accepted but it still seems wrong to me. p.s. I'm not a native speaker although I do speak it like a native.

• This doesn't really answer the question. The question is asking for substantive differences in meaning between, say, "coffee without sugar" and "coffee with no sugar", not for personal opinions about which seems best. – David Richerby Jan 7 '15 at 12:00
• It "seems wrong to you"? You mean it seems like something not widely used and accepted? – Jon Hanna Jan 7 '15 at 15:21

I believe that in the sense of 'without sound' it could mean many things. without gives the option of their previously being sound. 'with no sound' doesn't give that option at all.

I'm a dutch man myself and I was wondering if "with no" was a grammar fault in American english. I see it quite often and am amazed. In my native language it is considered improper use of our language.

It seems to include something first and then right away exclude it. The proper way to formulate it, translated to English, would be "without."

Example: "Dad can I go outside with no jacket." (This would be considered wrong.)

Example: "Dad can I go outside without a jacket." (This would be considered right.)

• *I've been through the desert on a horse without a name. —America – MetaEd Oct 14 '16 at 17:24
• It may be improper in Dutch, but nowhere is it improper in English. – Aeon Akechi Jan 11 '17 at 13:54