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As an answer to the question "Would you do X for me?" - Does it make a difference whether i say "Not a problem" or "No problem" - My gut feeling is that there is a slight difference in the meaning of the two sentences - the first more oriented to the thing that is to be done, the second more oriented to the fact that i'll help?

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  • These are very informal, people don't really put much thought into the precise wording.
    – Barmar
    Commented Apr 29, 2018 at 20:00
  • A) No; there is no difference and B) Any such Answer is so disrespectful as to be unworthy of consideration in most contexts. Your one excuse for giving that consideration would be to compare, say, British to Australian or New Zealand English. New Zealand clearly and Australian to an extent use that idiomatically… British doesn't, except in acceptance of what they do… Commented Apr 29, 2018 at 22:08
  • @RobbieGoodwin Sorry, but i do not understand your comment - are you suggesting that some (or all?) english speaking communities would think the answer disrespectful? In what social context would it be acceptable/unacceptable? What would be a respectful response? You're welcome?
    – loonquawl
    Commented Apr 30, 2018 at 19:57
  • Yes, bukwyrm, that's exactly what I'm not simply suggesting but very clearly insisting upon. Many millions of native English speakers are happy to use "not a problem" or "no problem”; whether they might mean anything different says more about the Questioner's understanding than about the language. There are contexts in which “no(t a) problem” might be appropriate, but not many… unless you can show some… Broadly, “not a problem” is a response at best casual and frequently seen as disrespectful. Commented Apr 30, 2018 at 20:21
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    disrespectful as in "you are asking too much of me."? or disrespectful as in "i can only spare a short sentence for answering you, showing my contempt."? what is the source of the disrespect you (and all the english speaking world ) detect?
    – loonquawl
    Commented May 1, 2018 at 18:57

2 Answers 2

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I think the difference between these two is not really a big deal and I agree with your gut feeling. The difference can be seen in the full sentence form of these answers.

Example: Can you help me wash my car?

Not a problem. = It (washing the car) is not a problem.
No problem. = It (me helping you washing your car) is no problem for me.

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  • Please, Oliver Mason, don't do that. Not a problem = It (washing the car) is not a problem. No problem = It (me helping you washing your car) is no problem for me. Of course they do but please go back and explain how they are different? Commented Apr 30, 2018 at 20:25
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I don't believe there should be anything "disrespectful" or offensive about simply pondering the difference in wording between "Not a problem" and "No problem". And I certainly mean no disrespect by trying to explain it. The article / adjective, a, quantifies the noun, problem, effectively limiting it to mean something concrete.

University of Northern British Columbia:

Articles can be thought of as adjectives because they function to modify a noun by limiting, quantifying or determining.

Articles are used with concrete nouns, but not abstract nouns.

If I may paraphrase Purdue Owl:

"I saw [a problem]!" Here, we're talking about a single, non-specific thing, in this case [a problem]. There [may be several problems], but there's only one we're talking about here.

Whereas, without the article problem is used even more generally as an abstract noun.

Macmillan Dictionary:

Abstract Noun: a common noun that refers to a quality, idea, or feeling rather than to a person or a physical object. For example ‘thought’, ‘problem’, ‘law’, and ‘opportunity’ are all abstract nouns.

Therefore,

  • Not a problem,

...is used when speaking of some concrete thing which might be characterized as 'a problem'.

Merriam Webster:

Mosquitoes are a problem in the summer.

Whereas,

  • No problem.

...is used in the abstract meaning of the word.

We didn't have any problems getting here.

Which is easily paraphrased,

  • We had no problem getting here.

Furthermore, in conclusion:

  • Would it be a problem? (concrete noun)

  • Not a problem.

  • Is it causing problems? (abstract noun)

  • No problem.

So when asked,

Would you do X for me?

...the concrete / abstract noun, problem, may be interpreted either way (depending entirely on preferred or intended context); either:

  • the favor itself might be considered a potential problem, for example some physically or technically impossible feat -- "Not a problem."

or

  • the act of doing the favor may be a potentially subjective source of trouble or difficulties, for example something judged illegal or immoral -- "No problem."
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