Deborah H. has a question about one of my recent post titles:
Maeve, the title on today’s DWT reminds me of a question that I have wanted to ask for a long time: How do I choose between “no” and “not?” You wrote, “Not Winning a Contest Doesn’t Mean Your Writing is No Good.” I would have written “not good.” Is there a rule for using “no” and “not?”
The choice between saying “not good” and “no good” has more to do connotation than with grammar rules.
I could have said “not good” in that title, but that’s not what I meant. I wanted to speak to the feelings of despair that many of us feel when a ms is returned or a query rejected:
OMG I’m wasting my time! My work must be worthless!
Much published writing is not good, but other factors keep it from being absolutely no good. Often the content of an article is so much in demand that people will buy it even if it’s badly written.
“Not good” is not as judgmental as “no good.” Something that’s “not good” may still have redeeming qualities or can be made better. Something that’s “no good” is useless for its intended purpose. For example:
This car is not good, but it gets me to work.
That car is no good; it doesn’t run at all.
Here’s a headline from the New Jersey Star-Ledger that further illustrates the choice between no good and not good:
TV no good for babies, study shows. Not bad, either
The gist of the story by Carrie Stetler is that “educational” TV programming does not increase intelligence in very young children, but that permitting them to watch it does not harm them.
In this context, “no good” means “doesn’t do any good.” The educational programs don’t work the way they are designed to. “Not bad,” on the other hand, means “not harmful.”