This question is not about syntactical correctness. I do not care about that. The only thing I care about is to be understood properly. That's why I'm asking it here and not ELL.

The meaning of sentence is "If you don't love yourself, you can love no one" or "To love someone else you should love yourself at first". So, does the given sentence associate with these sentences in the minds of English-speaking people? Or is it too unnatural?

So, the question is how to write that. As in the title or as an alternatives in the body?

  • Maybe, borrow from logic's notation: Love not self => Love no one
    – NofP
    Jan 15, 2019 at 11:15
  • is this an expression in some other language? Was something lost in translation?
    – ashleylee
    Jan 15, 2019 at 17:46
  • @ashleylee On my first language this sentence contruction is unproblematic. We often have sentences of the form "Premise - conclusion".
    – rus9384
    Jan 15, 2019 at 19:14
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    @rus9384: I literally have no idea what it is trying to say... are you trying to say "if you don't love yourself, you can't love others?" or are you saying "don't love anything. Don't love yourself. Don't love anyone" or something in between?
    – ashleylee
    Jan 15, 2019 at 19:22
  • 5
    @rus9384: This would be a GREAT line to use.. if it is spoken by a non-native-english speaker in your story.
    – ashleylee
    Jan 15, 2019 at 20:11

3 Answers 3


From a structure point of view, you're making it far too short to be easily understandable by a reader.

“Love not self - love no one”

It sounds more like a commandment to live by rather than a causal implication. The fact that verbs are in their root forms makes the sentence look like an imperative statement: there will be people that, without any given context, will read said words as: "You shouldn't love yourself, nor love anyone else"

Depending on the context it could also feel like someone criticizing someone else: "You don't love yourself, you don't love at all".

Of course a part of the readers will (eventually) derive the intended meaning of "If you don't love yourself, you can't love anyone". But you're omitting a lot of the important bits of the sentence.


Yes, it sounds unnatural.

You should focus on making it less synthetical to improve readability.

  • that is how I read it
    – Andrey
    Jan 15, 2019 at 14:27
  • 1
    As a native English speaker, this is how I read it as well. And upon knowing what the intended meaning was, I find it very difficult to contort the words to match the meaning.
    – Cort Ammon
    Jan 21, 2019 at 23:19

This sounds incredibly unnatural, almost to the point of comedy. It reads like something that's been very badly translated. There are just not enough words in the sentences to make the meaning clear.

Syntactical correctness is not just a little annoying hurdle to be overcome; it's incredibly important to the ability to make your meaning clear. This question would, in fact, be better posed to ELL.

In general, I would not recommend in any writing situation to try and break the rules before you fully understand them.

  • Well, I guess it's simply that English has too few tools to denote the idea in that few words.
    – rus9384
    Jan 21, 2019 at 21:27
  • 2
    @rus9384 Well, that is how translations work, and why they're challenging. That's why it's hard work; every language has slightly different constructions and different connotations for each word.
    – Cooper
    Jan 21, 2019 at 21:29
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    I'm not a linguistics expert-- someone at the ELL stack would be better able to explain why "To love someone else you should love yourself at first" sounds weird; all I can say as a native speaker is that it does sound odd, potentially because of the word "at". As for the fact that the '-' works in your first language, well, every language has different conventions. Even closely related languages like German and English have different grammatical constructions. The idea that something should work in one language because it works in another is, frankly, bizarre.
    – Cooper
    Jan 21, 2019 at 22:16
  • 1
    The idea that something should work in one language because it works in another is not bizarre - it's intuitive. Intuition just happens to be wrong here. In fact, for someone who is bilingual or trilingual in their everyday life, it is very common to pass idioms and sentence structures from one language to another. It takes a bit of an effort to remember that a particular idiom doesn't belong in the language one is currently speaking. (This doesn't negate your other points.) Jan 22, 2019 at 0:05
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    @Galastel It's more the weird insistence that somehow, because this does not work in English, despite being told that it just doesn't, English must be wrong in some way. That's bizarre to me, especially when the question was inquiring if this was understandable to English speakers.
    – Cooper
    Jan 22, 2019 at 2:21

It is open to interpretation, so not clear. Love not self sounds like a warning against narcissistic tendencies or a call to be selfless as self is merely an illusion so love of self would be a waste.

Sentences should not require explication. What you might want to try is adding the missing concept. “Without love of self one cannot love others”

“Love not self - love no one” sounds negative. It implies that love is something to be avoided.

The sentiment is similar to what Emerson said regarding beauty, that to find it elsewhere we must carry it within ourselves (poor paraphrase).

  • "Sentences should not require explication" It depends on if you are writing what someone might say when English is their second or third language. Explication sometimes is required when they don't have a complete grasp of English sentence structure. Jan 20, 2019 at 0:08

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