It is generally observed that the existence of geometrical discontinuity like notches in materials will lead to strength weakening, as a resultant of local stress concentration. By comparing the influence of notches to the strength of three typical materials, aluminum alloys with intermediate tensile ductility, metallic glasses with no tensile ductility, and brittle ceramics, we observed strengthening in aluminum alloys and metallic glasses: Tensile strength of the net section in circumferentially notched cylinders increases with the constraint quantified by the ratio of notch depth over notch root radius; in contrast, the ceramic exhibit notch weakening. The strengthening in the former two is due to resultant deformation transition: Shear failure occurs in intact samples while samples with deep notches break in normal mode fracture. No such deformation transition was observed in the ceramic, and stress concentration leads to its notch weakening. The experimental results are confirmed by theoretical analyses and numerical simulation. The results reported here suggest that the conventional criterion to use brittleness and/or ductility to differentiate notch strengthening or weakening is not physically sound. Notch strengthening or weakening relies on the existence of failure mode transition and materials exhibiting shear failure while subjected to tension will notch strengthen.