No is used to describe nouns, meaning zero – no cheese, no fun, no noise, no clowns, etc. Withuncountable nouns, zero is always followed by a plural – zero people, zero degrees, etc. However, no is more flexible than zero. Normally, it is followed by a plural noun – but sometimes it is followed by a singular noun.
Why no can be followed by either a singular or plural noun
The reason that no can be followed by either a singular or a plural noun is that it can mean not a or not any. Usually, it means not any – zero – because when we use a negative we refer to plurals, I don’t have any books / I have no books. Negatives have plurals because we are showing nothing of a possible many things.
- There are no chairs left to sit on.
- No dogs allowed.
- He has no scruples.
Most of the time, it is therefore correct to follow no with a plural noun – if it is countable. If it is uncountable, we usually use the uncountable version of the noun, not a plural version (e.g. no butter not no butters).
However, sometimes there is only one thing possible, or we wish to emphasise a particular thing (for example when a singular thing has been asked about); in these cases a singular is more appropriate. Consider the following examples:
- I have no wife. (only one wife would be expected)
- She has no bike. (she would only expect to own one bike)
Singular nouns can also be more appropriate for emphasis, when no precedes a subject noun – because it may emphasise not a single thing. For example:
- No player has won this award more than once.
- No man is happy without chocolate.
Collocations of no
A number of common nouns combine with no idiomatically (and wouldn’t use not a or not any). Many of these are uncountable. These collocations include no idea, no time, no doubt, no amount, no reason, no need, no problem, no way, no point, no use, no way, no evidence.
- There’s no time left, we have to go.
- I have no idea what the answer is.
- No need to thank me, it was my pleasure.
These collocations often have idiomatic uses, which may be used differently to countable versions of the nouns. For example, no idea is used to mean no knowledge, but no ideas can be used to mean no creative thoughts or plans.
No – Singular or Plural Nouns Exercise
In the following sentences, decide if no (and the verb to be) should be followed by a singular or a plural noun (shown in brackets).
- There __________ at the pond. (ducks)
- __________ allowed in the lobby. (child)
- I have __________ left. (milk)
- You said there __________ we could afford. (car)
- That rough man has __________ left. (tooth)
- __________ of talking could persuade him to stop. (amount)
- The rules state __________ can be taken home. (bottle)
- There __________ we can get to the show in time. (way)
- If there are __________ left to discuss, let’s end the meeting. (topic)
- She taught __________ last week. (new material)
- The police took __________ when raiding the building. (chance)
- He had to walk because he had __________. (car)
- There were no ducks at the pond.
- No children are allowed in the lobby.
- I have no milk left.
- You said there were no cars we could afford.
- That rough man has no teeth left.
- No amount of talking could persuade him to stop.
- The rules state no bottles can be taken home.
- There’s no way we can get to the show in time.
- If there are no topics left to discuss, let’s end the meeting.
- She taught no new material last week.
- The police took no chances when raiding the building.
- He had to walk because he had no car.