I have been arguing with a friend for several weeks over this sentence. Is the sentence "There is no non existing" (or any other writings of the word pair "non existing" such as : "non-existing", "nonexisting") gramatically correct ?

In addition, is the sentence "There is no red." grammatically correct ?

And are there any grammatically differences between these two sentences ?

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  • Welcome to EL&U. 'There is no red' is wrong, conceptually and logically. The quality of redness exists. 'There is no non-existing' (it should be hyphened) is meaningless. These questions are not about language; they are philosophical and they are illogical. – Nigel J Jan 10 at 17:47
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    'There is no non-existing' is not a complete sentence. It needs to state what is being described as non-existent. – Kate Bunting Jan 10 at 17:49
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    There is no red as an isolated sentence without context is grammatical, but not meaningful; when placed in context, or when extended into a full sentence (e.g., There is no red in that painting, it may express a perfectly legitimate thought. – Jeff Zeitlin Jan 10 at 18:11

“There is no nonexisting”? There is no noun, or at least not anything readily understood to be one, only an adjective. To preserve the pseudo-profundity of the original, however, one might write instead:

There exists no nonexisting state.

Now any adjective can be substantivized — the poor, the obnoxiously wealthy, the aesthetically challenged — but only when clearly marked:

In an ideal world, there would be no poor.

I'm not overly fond of this sentence, but because of context and the plural verb, you know I mean poor people, thus grammatically, all is well. So you might come up with the sentence:

The nonexisting exist only as a mental construct.

Now in this deep dive into the intricacies of English grammar, you might have stumbled upon something like this:

Nonexisting does not exist.

Strictly true when nonexisting is in italics or framed in quotation marks to indicate its usage as a word in isolation, this one might survive the last beer at 4 am, but not the first morning coffee. While existing can be used as a noun, nonexisting does not exist as a legitimate English gerund because to nonexist isn't a verb. And that brings us back to your original statement:

There is no [such gerund as] “nonexisting.”

Truer words were never spoken! But to those of us not privy to the beer and coffee, the sentence is utter rubbish.


Not so with your second sentence:

There is no red.

Even without context, you know that among various things in your immediate field of vision there isn't a red one, whether paint, pigment, crayon, or nail polish. Red is a substantivized adjective and immediately recognized as such. Nonexisting isn't.

  • Love the way you wrote your answer, though I am not sure I share your strict position against substantivizing nonexisting. “We can’t escape our existence.” From the first read, it made sense to me as such, though it seemed to me it belonged in a philosophical thread (I also understand the OP was seeking advice about grammar). In other words, despite understanding it, it struck me as odd. – Dennis R Hidalgo Jan 11 at 4:22

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