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No: the Complete Sentence We All Need to Say With Confidence

This quote is often attributed to author Anne Lamott, which is fine by me since I love her books!

I have been in love with words for as long as I can remember. My mom taught me early and well how to read, and I took it from there and ran with it.

But over the years (decades, more like) I have begun to realize that I like some words more than others. Some words I really don’t like at all. Some words are so wonderful I never get tired of them (“coffee” and “wine” being two particular favorites).

And some words I downright hate. Until only the past few years, the word “no” has been in this category.

Only just recently I learned that “no” is not just a word but also a complete sentence. I guess I’ve always known this deep down in the part of me that senses when a sentence is complete or not yet complete. But I haven’t known why.

So I do what I always do when I don’t know something and want to know it – I look it up. What I discovered is that “no” is a complete sentence because it represents a complete thought.  I like this.

After all, when I say the word “no,” I am not likely to encounter anyone who shares my language who doesn’t understand what I mean (whether or not they believe me is another story and also the building blocks of #metoo and other movements I admire).

And yet when I do say “no,” I am also now realizing I often behave, and speak, as if the other party in the conversation isn’t quite clear on my meaning. For example, I might say “No, but…..(fill in the blanks with lame excuse).”

Or I might say, “No, thank you,” which of course I do because I am a good Southern girl and this is how my mom taught me to say it.

Rarely, despite more than one self-help workshop that delved into depth on this exact skill, do I ever just simply say “No” when I am saying it out loud and someone else is close enough to hear me.  

One workshop I attended several years ago spent quite some hours teaching us how to say no, just no, without any embellishment and also without any added emotional charge such as fear, anger, resentment, regret or guilt. Our goal during this particular workshop was to experience the personal empowerment that comes when we allow our “no” to stand on its own two feet.

After all, it can. It is a complete sentence.

But I have to say, there wasn’t a workshop participant in the room who didn’t struggle to pull this off.

Oddly, saying “yes,” just yes, is easier. Yes is a more socially acceptable word it would seem. It is lighter, sweeter, and in most cases people prefer to hear it in answer to their questions. I don’t really have any trouble saying “yes” without embellishment, although I rarely say “yes” and stop there (this again I chalk up to how my mom raised me).

The only time I ever find it at least sort of easy to say “no,” just no, without adding anything onto it is when I am responding to myself.

Here is a recent relevant example.

Let’s say I look into my empty wine glass (sob) and then look in the frig and notice there is still some wine left in the bottle (yay!). I say to myself, “I could have some more wine.”

Then I remember that I have to get up very early the next morning and I am a lightweight and having that extra glass of wine won’t seem like nearly such a good idea tomorrow as it does right now. So I say to myself, “No.”

Depending on what sort of mood I’m in and what kind of day I’ve just had, there might then be some internal argument and attempts at negotiation. But either way, I don’t feel any pressing need to “pretty up” the communications – in fact, here I actually have to work harder not to speak overly harshly to myself.

After all, it is a self-kindness to do my utmost to ensure I won’t suffer from a hangover all day the next day.

And I have to remember that sometimes, saying “No,” just no, to others is a kindness too. It truly is.

It seems worth it to mention that my non-human flock members, Pearl, Malti and Bruce, appear to have zero trouble saying “no,” each in their own unique ways. A swift peck, a head retraction, a quick retreat into the camouflaging ferns, and I get it loud and clear – it’s a “no.”

The odd thing is, I’m fine with it. I deal a lot better with their “no’s” than I do with a “no” from someone of my own species, or from myself.

Today’s Takeaway: Do you struggle to say “no” without adding anything else to it? Do you find it harder to say no to yourself or to someone else without embellishing your reply in some way? Why do you think this is? Have you ever had the experience of simply saying “no” without saying one word more and having it be totally fine, okay, great, even?

No: the Complete Sentence We All Need to Say With Confidence

Shannon Cutts

Parrot, tortoise & box turtle mama. Writer. Author. Mentor. Champion of all people (and things) recovered and recovering.

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APA Reference
Cutts, S. (2019). No: the Complete Sentence We All Need to Say With Confidence. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 4, 2020, from


Last updated: 5 Aug 2019
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