English is full of words that get their meanings and grammatical concepts from other languages. Most of the English language, in fact, was borrowed (or stolen) from languages such as Latin, Greek, or other European languages, as your high school English teacher likely tried to tell you. As a result, it can be very difficult for people to learn the vastly complex network of English grammar rules because more often than not, the rules actually get broken.
One such word that does not seem to follow conventional “rules” or grammatical concepts and guidelines is the word “no.” The word’s pluralization can be complicated, leaving people wondering where it fits into the grand scheme of grammatical etiquette. In this article, let’s explore the proper use of our word of the day, no, how to go about pluralizing it, look for its synonyms, and learn its context.
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The first step in really understanding a word or learning the correct way to use it is to understand its definition. According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, the word no is actually an adverb and can be defined as “used as a function word to express the negative of an alternative choice or possibility.” Other definitions include “in no respect or degree, used in comparisons,” “not so, used to express negation, dissent, denial, or refusal,” and “no, used as an interjection to express surprise, doubt, or incredulity.”
It can also be used as an adjective, and in that context, is defined as “not any, hardly any, not a, etc.” For example, there is no parking; he finished in no time; he is no expert. At the end of the day, the word no really needs no explanation, though, as it is universally recognized as a negative. In fact, most languages have a form of the word no, and in several (especially European languages), the word in that language is also just “no.”
The plural of no is where things get complicated. According to the Merriam Webster, there are two acceptable plural forms of the word no: nos and noes. Both versions of this irregular plural are interchangeable and are used to describe a situation where more than one negative response is given or needed.
A good example of this would be in a vote between two options, yes and no, and the words “nos” or “noes” could be used to describe the plurality of individuals voting in the negative.
The word no’s is not actually a word, because there is no contraction involving no as the primary root, and there is also no ownership that the no has, meaning there is no possessive form. The apostrophe would only be used to show missing letters in a contraction or abbreviation, so that is not the case here.
The opposite of “noes” would be “yesses,” which has its own set of complications in the English spelling.
The History and Origin of the Word
One of the best ways to understand a word is to learn where it came from. A word’s etymology can reveal a lot about the changes a word has gone through to get to where it is today in modern English. And honestly, the word no has a very long etymological background, if not a very complicated one.
According to EtymOnline.com, the word no in its current form came to English through the Middle English word meaning “not in any degree,” which was derived from the Old English word “na,” a combination of the words “ne” (meaning not, no) and the suffix “-a,” meaning ever. Tracing its roots all the way back through Proto-Germanic reveals that the original root of the word came from Latin.
The Latin words nihil and nullus, a singular noun and plural noun respectively, both represented the word zero, the null set, or the word no. They could be used as blanket negatives in practically any context. Additionally, Spanish, French, and modern German all have very similar words to communicate a negative answer: “no” in Spanish, “non” in French, and “nein” in German.
Examples of the Word in Context
Another great way to learn how to use a word properly is to explore its context. Either reading a word being used correctly or hearing someone else use it in conversation can be a great way to understand its proper usage. Here are some common example sentences of the word no in conversation:
“Did you hear his answer? When given the proposal, he responded with a resounding no!”
“All for? All against? The final tally appears to be 37 yeses, 63 noes. The noes have it.”
“No, absolutely not. I categorically refuse to be submitted to this kind of treatment. I will not stand for it, no!”
Synonyms for No
Exploring words with similar definitions is the last good way to really understand how to properly implement a word into your own vocabulary. Straight from the thesaurus, here are some common synonyms for the word no.
Never, a negative synonym for no used to describe time.
None, a negative synonym used to describe the absence of anything that fits into the current criteria, zero.
Negative, a word used usually in mathematical context to describe the negative numbers, but can also be used to communicate the opposite of affirmative, a negative answer being “no.”
Nay, another way to say no, usually reserved for older contexts or possibly voting.
Denial, a synonym that describes the negative answer to a very specific request.
At the end of the day, it is important to remember that language is driven by culture; culture decides what is considered correct, and because of its nature, the dictionary cannot actually be the definitive authority on any specific concept.
That being said, it is important to know your audience very well before delivering any word in either written or spoken communication because the meaning that they understand, the grammar that they use, or the concepts that they may take for granted may all be foreign to you.
Which plural version of “no” you use may well have to do with the collegiate style guide that you are following, whether that be MLA or the Chicago manual of style. Hopefully, by reading this article, you feel better prepared to use the word no in any context, written or spoken. Good luck!
Kevin Miller is a growth marketer with an extensive background in Search Engine Optimization, paid acquisition and email marketing. He is also an online editor and writer based out of Los Angeles, CA. He studied at Georgetown University, worked at Google and became infatuated with English Grammar and for years has been diving into the language, demystifying the do's and don'ts for all who share the same passion! He can be found online here.