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This week we received a question from Candy in China. Candy writes,

Question: I wonder what is the difference between "not" and "no"? Today when I do my homework, I encounter the question. I do not know if it is "no need to do something" or "not need to do something" - Candy, China

Answer:

Dear Candy,

Thank you for writing to us. We do not usually answer homework questions, but I will try to explain the difference between the two expressions.

Not

The word “not” is an adverb, which means it modifies – or changes the meaning of -- a verb. “Not” is often used with modal verbs, like “should,” “can” and “might.” Here are two examples.

You should not go to the park today.

We might not have time to go before dark.

The phrase you saw, “not need to do something,” looks like it is part of a sentence where “need” is used as a verb. Here are some examples.

You do not need to clean the room.

I have not walked the dog today.

They are not working on the project.

In those sentences, “not” modifies the verbs clean, walk, and work. They show how “not” can be used as an adverb.

No

The word “no” can be used as an adverb, adjective, or noun. In your sentence, “There is no need to do something,” “no” is used as an adjective, modifying the noun “need.” The verb in that sentence is a form of the word be: “is.”

Here are examples of “no” being used as an adjective:

The store has no eggs on the shelf.

People with no internet connection at home can go to a library.

“No” is also often used as an adverb. For example, your parents may have told you,

No, you cannot have any more candy.

In that sentence, “no” answers the question, “Can I have more candy?” I am wondering if that is where you got your nickname, Candy.

By the way, I hope you have “no problems” with doing your homework now.

Your questions

What question do you have about American English? Send us an email at learningenglish@voanews.com.

And that's Ask a Teacher for this week.

I’m Jill Robbins.

Dr. Jill Robbins wrote this story for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

park – n. a large public green space

shelf n. an object that provides a surface for the storage of objects

library – n. a building or room containing books and other publications, and sometimes videos

nicknamen. a name that is different from your real name but is what your family and friends call you when they are talking to you or about you

Do you have a question for the teacher? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section or send us an email at learningenglish@voanews.com.

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