EN: I am no X / I am not (a) X

Discussion in 'French and English Grammar / Grammaire française et anglaise' started by Nicodrum, Jun 8, 2010.

  1. Nicodrum Senior Member

    France
    France - French
    Hi Everybody,

    I am struggling with a simple question: the difference between 'no' and 'not', I still can't figure out when I have to say 'no' or 'not'. For example, in Scrubs soundtrack when they say: 'I am no superman', and in a simple sentence such as 'I am not English'. Although I say 'I am not English' quite naturally I would be tempted to say 'I am not superman'.

    As I can't find any grammar rules, could anyone help me on this one?

    Thank you

    Nico

    Moderator note: multiple threads merged to create this one
     
    Last edited: Feb 6, 2013
  2. catielyndell New Member

    English - Australia
    Unfortunately that's something really without a rule in english, but if you want to use formal/proper grammar I'd advise saying 'not' instead of 'no'.
    Also, saying 'no' instead of not can sound quite old fashioned and therefore awkward.

    Hope that helps :)
     
  3. gordeldier Senior Member

    France
    English (Australian)
    That's an interesting question. I wonder whether these hold as rules:
    I am no <noun>
    I am not <adjective or proper noun>

    The word 'superman' is tricky because it could be considered a general noun: I am no superman, or a proper noun: I am not Superman.

    It's a bit simpler with a word like 'lizard', then 'I am no lizard' is natural, but 'I am not lizard' is incorrect, or at the very least unusual. One would have to say 'I am not a lizard'.

    edit: But then it's tricky to say how 'I am no superman' differs from 'I am not a superman'...
     
    Last edited: Jun 8, 2010
  4. Nicodrum Senior Member

    France
    France - French
    Hi,

    thanks to both of you. I think I'll try 'no + noun' and 'not + adjective or proper noun'. Is there any difference between 'I am no lizard' and 'I am not a lizard'? I mean is one more employed than the other. Catielyndell suggested that 'no' would be quite old fashioned compare to 'not', so does it mean that native English speakers would say more 'I am not a lizard' than 'I am no lizard'?

    Nico
     
  5. dratuor Senior Member

    lille, nord
    french - france
    I think so.

    To stick to your example 'I am no superman' <=> 'I am not a superman'
    But as the second is weird to first one is prefered.

    [you'll notice as well that it's different to "I am not Superman"]
     
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2013
  6. jann

    jann co-mod'

    English - USA
    The usual construction for a statement of fact would be:

    "I'm not a lizard" (in fact, I am a human being)
    "I'm not Superman" (in fact, the comic book hero was fictional)
    "I'm not a superman" (in fact, I don't possess superhuman strength)

    Only when you wish to emphasize what you aren't would you switch to the alternate construction. Since the noun chosen for "I am no + noun" is often an extreme example, this pattern is often slightly humorous or ironic.

    "I'm no lizard!"
    e.g., Joking comment about how you need to stay out of the sun instead of tanning on the beach

    "I'm no Superman" :cross:
    This sentence is not grammatical because there was only one (fictional) Superman, so it is not a category you could be part of.

    "I'm no superman!" :tick:
    e.g., self-deprecating comment about how you certainly need help moving that heavy set of shelves.

    "I'm no waitress!"
    e.g., informal joking/indignant remark directed at your husband, who is watching TV and has asked you to bring him food or drink which he could perfectly well fetch for himself during the next advertisement.

    The standard construction for a statement of fact is also used quite frequently in emphatic situations that express irritation or indignation; tone of voice carries the emphasis.
     
  7. gordeldier Senior Member

    France
    English (Australian)
    That's an interesting example because there would be a difference between saying
    I'm no waitress.
    (if one is clumsy or otherwise unsuitable for the role)
    and
    I'm not a waitress.
    (where one excludes oneself emphatically from the role)
     
  8. jann

    jann co-mod'

    English - USA
    I absolutely agree with both of those usages in both of those situations... and yet, I would add a third (which I what I tried to mention above; sorry if it wasn't clear):

    I'm no waitress.
    (where you jokingly remind a friend or family member not to treat you as such)
     
  9. Nicodrum Senior Member

    France
    France - French
    Thank you for all these answers. Seems to be subtle but I'll try to remember all of your advices and examples.

    Nico
     
  10. mancunienne girl Senior Member

    England
    English - England
    I go with Jann on this one. I would use the "I'm no" to emphasize rather than merely state a fact. For example, if someone were to ask me my advice on a specialist subject but I wanted to hazard a guess, I would say "I'm no expert, but......"
     
  11. geostan

    geostan Senior Member

    English Canada
    I'm not sure I agree with this distinction. Thinking of other examples, I would say for instance:

    I am no Tarzan. I do not possess the attributes associated with this person real or unreal.

    I am not Tarzan. Tarzan might or might not do such and such, but that would not be what I would do. Or, I cannot answer for Tarzan.
    And I'm sure there are other possible nuances/interpretations/contexts???

    Nor do I think the sentence with no is ungrammatical since no is essentially in this case an adjective.
     
  12. scaryman0 New Member

    francais
    Hello!

    I've got a problem with those two sentences: I'm not a **something** and I'm no **something**. Are both correct ? What is the difference ?

    Thanks a lot
     
  13. jann

    jann co-mod'

    English - USA
    Les deux syntaxes sont tout à fait correctes et veulent dire la même chose.

    I'm no + [noun] est plus emphatique alors que I'm not a [noun] est plus neutre. On a donc tendance à employer I'm no... pour exprimer une réaction émotionnelle (indignation, surprise, ironie, humour, etc.) et I'm not a... pour exprimer un constat ou justement pour éviter de montrer une réaction émotionnelle ou personnelle lorsque celle-ci serait mal placée.
     
  14. scaryman0 New Member

    francais
    Crystal clear merci beaucoup ;)
     
  15. Libeccio

    Libeccio Senior Member

    bilingual US english and Italian
    My instinct on this is that if I say "I'm not Superman" I'm referring to THE superman character, the hero, whereas "I'm no superman" would make me think of people in the generic class of people like superman. People in general who have super-powers.

    To keep using your examples:
    "I'm not English" --> I am not an English citizen
    "I'm no Engligh" --> I am not like the english people (Perhaps English people in this context are considered rude and nasty?)
     
  16. geostan

    geostan Senior Member

    English Canada
    "I'm no English" --> I am not like the English people (Perhaps English people in this context are considered rude and nasty?)

    I would never say this.
     
  17. Fred_C

    Fred_C Senior Member

    France
    Français
    English is an adjective. The phrasing only works with nouns, doesn’t it ?
    «I am no Englishman» works, doesn’t it ?

    Note to those that didn’t read Nietzsche in English : a superman is not simply «someone in the generic class of people like Superman, with superpowers, etc...»
    a superman, ça veut dire un surhomme.
    «I am not a superman» : «je ne suis pas un surhomme»
     
  18. Reynald Senior Member

    Ile-de-France
    Français - France
    Est-ce qu'il y a une nuance de sens entre "he is not an expert" et "he is no expert" ?
     
  19. Nicomon

    Nicomon Senior Member

    Montréal
    Français, Québec ♀
    Bonjour.

    À mon avis, le sens est le même mais le registre ne l'est pas.

    Je sais par contre que "I'm no + noun" est souvent (sinon presque toujours?) suivi de "but".

    Par exemple : I'm no expert, but I can give it a try.

    Cela dit, je ne suis pas (une) anglophone. Peut-être que ces fils (le premier venant du forum "English only") vous aideront :

    http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=2759318

    […]
     
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2014
  20. catver Senior Member

    France, French
    "He's not an expert" est une simple forme négative
    "He's no expert" renforce la négation, un peu comme si on disait qu'il est loin d'être expert
     
  21. Omelette

    Omelette Senior Member

    London
    UK English
    catver is correct, though both of your suggestions might be used to mean the same thing: he doesn't know much about the subject.
    But ,for example 'He's not a scientist' (that isn't his occupation, since that is a clearly defined role, but he might know something about science)
    'He's no scientist' (he knows little or nothing about science)

    ADD: Incidentally, I don't think it's right to say - as is suggested in the first of the linked threads - that 'I'm/He's/She's no x' is usually followed by 'but'.
    It can be, but it's easy to think of lots sentences when it wouldn't be.
     
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2014
  22. Reynald Senior Member

    Ile-de-France
    Français - France
    Je vois. Il y a une petite gradation, donc. Merci à vous trois.
    (Je n'avais pas remarqué le fil déjà existant).
     
    Last edited: Sep 29, 2014
  23. Nicomon

    Nicomon Senior Member

    Montréal
    Français, Québec ♀
    Thank you for the specification, omelette. I honestly thought that "'I'm/He's/She's no x" was most often followed by "but".

    Especially if the said noun is "expert" as Reynald specified (and as in the short example I gave).
    I wonder if this "followed by but" isn't more common with "I" than any other pronoun? :confused: I would think so.

    Thought I'd add this that I found googling - emphasis mine :
    But which one is really stronger between : I'm not an expert, far from it and I'm no expert ?
    It seems to me that the first option is stronger, and I would be tempted to say "really no expert" or "no expert at all" to mean the same thing.
    Would I be right? I'm seriously asking. I'm not sure at all.

    @ Reynald : je ne me souviens plus quels critères de recherche j'ai donné pour « aboutir » sur ce fil existant.
    Je ne l'ai pas trouvé tout de suite non plus. :)
     
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2014
  24. Omelette

    Omelette Senior Member

    London
    UK English
    For the reasons catver and I have given, I think 'he's no expert' has the potential to be 'stronger' - more dismissive - than 'he's not an expert'. I certainly don't think it works the other way round.
     
  25. Nicomon

    Nicomon Senior Member

    Montréal
    Français, Québec ♀
    I understood that. But catver wrote :
    My question was whether or not I'm not an expert, far from it would be even more dismissive (couldn't think of anything else than "stronger" :eek:)
    than I'm no expert (by itself).

    As I'm no English grammarian, I was just wondering. :p
     
  26. Omelette

    Omelette Senior Member

    London
    UK English
    Sorry, then I didn't understand. 'He's/I'm not an expert, far from it' is about as far as you can go in denying expertise. Is it even more extreme than 'He's/I'm no expert' ? Possibly - it's certainly making the thought even more explicit -but you're in the same territory.
     
  27. Nicomon

    Nicomon Senior Member

    Montréal
    Français, Québec ♀
    Merci Omelette. C'est bien clair. :)
     
  28. elesparrago New Member

    English - United States
    On utiliserait le premier phrase pour dire qu'il n'est pas un expert littéralement. La deuxième est utilisé pour dire qu'il n'a pas les dons pour réaliser ce qu'est en question.Jean-Pierre
     
  29. Reynald Senior Member

    Ile-de-France
    Français - France
    Merci Jean-Pierre. J'ai même entendu un jour quelqu'un l'utiliser avec un nom propre. Quelqu'un qui n'était pas un très bon danseur m'a dit : "I'm no Fred Astaire!" :)
     
  30. elesparrago New Member

    English - United States
    C'est un usage très bon! Je suis content que je poudrais vous aider! :)
     

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