Negation in Legal English – no vs not
Today we’ll be looking at a language point which is fairly straightforward but which can be rather tricky and prone to mistakes – the use of no and not.
In General English, there are various different ways of forming negatives. Of course, the most common way is to negate the verb, but we can also use adverbs, quantifiers and prefixes to make a meaning of a sentence or a word negative.
A few examples to illustrate:
1. the use of not
- with verbs and quantifiers
He’s outside. – He‘s not outside. (the verb ‘to be’ with not)
They finished early. – The didn’t finish early. (full verb “finish” with an auxiliary verb carrying the negative)
Not many people want to be referees – it’s a lot of hassle and not much money. (not with quantifiers much/many)
“Is it always so cold here?” “No, not always.” (not with an adverb)
- We can also use not with adjectives:
Howard found the exam not (too) difficult.
! Adding not with an adjective weakens the adjective but does not carry the same meaning as the opposite adjective.
The exam was easy. / The exam was not too difficult.
(The speaker is more confident of passing the exam in the first example.)
2. the use of no
- We use no with nouns
You’ll get no answers from them. / You won’t get any answers from them.
(no difference in meaning although the first example sounds a bit more emphatic)
! Sometimes, there is a change of meaning from a statement of fact to an expression of opinion)
She’s not a dancer. (fact) / She’s no dancer. (opinion)
- and with some phrases commonly used in informal English:
“The computer’s not working again” “No wonder, it’s not plugged in!”
“Thanks for the lift!” “No problem.”
- we also use no with good, different and comparatives
Low impact aerobics is basically no different from the normal type but it’s kinder on the legs and feet. (=very similar to)
Next-day courier is no faster than first-class post. (= isn’t any faster than)
This café is no more expensive than the one down the road.
Shoes are no good if they let in water.
! Make sure the dependent preposition (than, from) is correct.
Of course, there are many other ways to express negative meanings but I only wanted to focus on the use of no and not because of how they are used in Legal English, particularly in contracts. For more detail or exceptions with no and not, other no/not expressions, double negative and negative transfer, please, refer to the sources below.
Legal English (language of contracts)
In contracts, the use of negatives is rather straightforward and more-or-less restricted to a few examples. Their function is to express unambiguous negation as well as limitation of numbers and volumes along with geographical and temporal limitations. It is therefore important to get them right and use them consistently.
To illustrate, I’ll be using extracts from a loan agreement provided courtesy of my lovely students – corporate lawyers at a bank. For Slovak speakers, I also include translations to provide comparison of equivalent wording in Slovak and English. (I find comparative analysis quite useful in class, for special purposes only, of course! More on this in one of the upcoming posts. 🙂 )
not with verbs (to express simple negation)
The Bank shall not issue the Guarantee, if an Event of Default occurred.
(Banka nevystaví Záruku, ak nastal Prípad porušenia.)
The Bank shall have a right, but not a duty, to monitor or verify compliance with the purpose of Drawdown.
(Banka má právo, ale nie povinnosť, monitorovať alebo si overovať dodržanie účelu Čerpania.)
!In this example, technically, not does not connect with a noun but is rather a part of what we call a clause constituent. The full coordinated clause “but it shall not have a duty” would be too wordy and repetitive and can therefore be clipped as follows:
The Bank shall have a right, but
it shall not have a duty, to monitor or verify compliance with the purpose of Drawdown.
The same applies to this example:
There are no Third-Party Rights,
which were not accepted by the Bank.
(Neexistuje Právo tretej osoby, ktoré Banka neakceptovala.)
- and no with comparatives (to express limitations of numbers and volumes as well as geographical and temporal limitations)
The Interest Period shall expire on the day preceding the final maturity date for the Term Loan, no later than on the day preceding the final maturity date of the Term Loan Facility.
(Úrokové obdobie začína dňom Čerpania Eskontného úveru u každej jednotlivej zmenky a končí dňom jej splatnosti.)
The Bank is entitled to issue an amendment for the Guarantee which will prolong the validity of the Guarantee, but no more than up to the Maximum validity period of the Guarantee.
(Banka je oprávnená vystaviť dodatok k Záruke, ktorým bude platnosť Záruky predĺžená, vždy však najviac na Maximálnu dobu platnosti Záruky.)
I said at the beginning that the use of no and not is rather straightforward and yet I’m exposing you to terms such as clause constituent and coordinated clause and referring you to Advanced Grammar books. Alas, as I mentioned in my first post, this is daily business for my Legal English students and as such, it has to be mine, as well. 🙂
To keep it simple (as much as possible), here’s what you should remember in order to deal with simple negation in contracts:
- not with verbs (to express simple negation): shall not, must not, may not, etc.
- and no with comparatives (to express limitations): no later than, no more than, no further than, no longer than, etc.
- Fixed phrases: whether or not, including but limited to, etc.
For further practice, feel free to download the photocopiable worksheet provided, complete with a key.
If you feel inclined to take on an extra challenge, here you are:
Can you explain the use of “no” and “not” on these traffic sings?
You can write your answer in the comments section, or contact me directly. I’ll provide the correct answer in my next post. 🙂
Thank you for reading and, as always, if you have any comments or feedback to give, I’ll be grateful. 🙂
- Advanced Learners’ Grammar (M.Foley,D.Hall, Longman, 2003)
- Advanced Grammar in Use (M.Hewings, Cambridge,2005)
- A Student’s Grammar of the English Languafe (S. Greenbaum, R. Quirk, Longman, 1990)
Q: Can you explain the use of “no” and “not” on these traffic sings?
A: Sign 1 – No swimming
Swimming is a gerund , an -ing form of a verb that can be used to replace a noun, e.g. I like music/reading. or Music/Reading is my hobby.
So, the rule no + nouns applies here.
Sign 2 – Warning! Not a fire exit.
Not a fire exit is a clipped sentence, as in
This is not a fire exit.
So, the rule not with verbs applies here.
If you got it right, well done! This was not an easy task. (or no easy task? Just joking… 🙂 )