Posted: Jul 12, 2016 1:27 pm
by Thommo
Well, thanks for that detailed answer, I find this stuff fascinating but I'm very poorly equipped to discuss it, since we had about (literally) 3 hours of formal grammar in my entire education, so I really lack the tools to analyse the rules I've subconsciously accumulated.

I did wonder after I posted though whether there was actually a difference in meaning between "there isn't a ..." and "there is no ...", which is reflected in speech by emphasis in a way that doesn't exist in the written word.

For example in a conversation:
Person A: "I need a tool for this, I think there's a wrench in the garage"
Person B {upon looking}: "There isn't a wrench, there are hundreds!"

You could not use "there is no..." in this way.

Obviously the dispreference in general for "there isn't a..." doesn't seem to apply to figures of speech though, "there isn't a cloud in the sky"/"there's not a cloud in the sky" sits perfectly naturally. Oddly, I don't think anyone would say "there is no cloud in the sky" though. Or maybe it's not the fact it's a figure of speech that distinguishes the situations? I'm not sure.