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Advice on “Includes No”

The other day Stuart, who lives in the UK, emailed some helpful comments to me because of "alarm bells" that went off as he read one my recent posts. I made changes based on Stuart's comments, but one of his remarks has left me perplexed. I would appreciate your opinion.

Stuart objected to this sentence of mine: "An email Rita had sent me recently included no phone number, no website, and no other contact information." 

He wrote: "If Rita's E-mail did not contain any contact details, then it could not have included them. Something that is not present cannot have been included."

He went on to recommend that I write "did not include" rather than "included no."

I have searched 25 reference manuals and writing guides on my bookshelf, and I can find no rules barring "includes no." Or as Stuart would say, "I cannot find a rule barring 'includes no.' "

Did I sleep through a discussion of "includes no" in my college and graduate school writing classes? I have never encountered this issue before.

I will be grateful for your views!

Stuart, thank you for your suggestions. I appreciate your high standards and expertise.

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Posted by Lynn Gaertner Johnson
By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English. She grew up in suburban Chicago, Illinois.

11 comments on “Advice on “Includes No””

  • My Garner doesn’t have anything specifically banning the usage. Maybe your usage could be considered an idiom of US language?

  • I wonder if it is a logical thing rather than linguistic?

    Trying it out, it sounds natural enough to me, and I am a UK writer (though spending a lot of time on the internet, which might have changed my ear).

  • “Includes no” sounds peculiar when taken out of context. I don’t believe it is a grammatical error but a question of usage. At one time, it might have been regarded as uneducated usage. However, replacing it with “did not include” can seem stuffy, like never ending with a preposition. In today’s world, I think we can safely say the Latinates have been conquered by the Saxonates. The latter might not be a word, in which case it should become one.

  • It’s the same thing. “Does not include any X” and “Includes no X” mean exactly the same thing. Stuart is wrong.

  • For me, as non English native speaker, such form sounds strange. There is more similar examples like this in English, eg. “we take no responsibility”, “i have no idea”, etc.
    But for me using constructions like this is a taste of native use of language.

  • Lynn, thank you for bringing this subject to wider audience, and thank you to everyone who has commented so far.

    A large proportion of my work consists of technical writing, from internal test documentation to end-user instruction manuals where the goal is to present complex theories in accessible terms. As a result my approach is undoubtedly biased towards a more precise, formal style.

    r2r raises an interesting point, are there any equivalents to “included no” in other languages? If not, I wonder whether its usage is confusing to those who may be learning English, when, as Joanna points out, it seems such an illogical phrase?

  • Thanks, everybody, for an interesting discussion. I know I will be careful about my use of “contains no” and “includes no” from now on.

    It makes perfect sense for a technical writer like Stuart to use a clean, clear style. I agree that “includes no” could be distracting in a procedure.

    On the other hand, “contains no” is shorter than “does not contain.” For example, food labels state “Contains no preservatives” rather than “Does not contain preservatives.”

    Stuart, thank you for raising this linguistic issue.

    Best regards,

  • I think they are both right in their respective context. They both have the same meaning.

    “..including no..” does not make much sense on its own but put together with the right subject & object would make sense. I think this phrase is used in more casual daily conversations as opposed to business writing where probably “did not include” would sound more natural and appropriate.

  • If you are a German speaker the structure “verb + no” is a direct translation from L1 to L2 so sounds quite normal.

  • An email Rita had sent me recently included neither a phone number, nor website, nor any other contact information.

    The above is what I would say.

    I prefer “I have not an idea.” as opposed to “I have no idea.”.

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