AskDefine | Define nothing

Dictionary Definition



1 a quantity of no importance; "it looked like nothing I had ever seen before"; "reduced to nil all the work we had done"; "we racked up a pathetic goose egg"; "it was all for naught"; "I didn't hear zilch about it" [syn: nil, nix, nada, null, aught, cipher, cypher, goose egg, naught, zero, zilch, zip]
2 a nonexistent thing [syn: nonentity] adv : in no way; to no degree; "he looks nothing like his father"

User Contributed Dictionary




  1. Not any thing; no thing.
  2. an absence of anything, including empty space, brightness, darkness, matter, or a vacuum.
  3. Anything (in double negatives such as I didn't see nothing [= I didn't see anything]).
  4. Something trifling, something of no consequence.
    What happened to your face? — It's nothing.


  • 1839: the players see little or nothing of their cards at first starting - Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby.




not any thing
something trifling

See also

Extensive Definition

Nothing is a concept that describes the lack or absence of anything at all. Colloquially, the concept is often used to indicate the lack of anything relevant or significant, or to describe a particularly unimpressive thing, event, or object. It is contrasted with something and everything. There is also the concept in Eastern philosophy which is called 'nothingness' It is characterized by an egoless state of being, in which one can see the true relation of one's own small part in the cosmos.

Language and logic

Grammatically, the word "nothing" is an indefinite pronoun, which means that it refers to something. This can lead to confusion, "Nothing" is a concept, concepts are things, so the concept of "Nothing" is a thing. This fallacy is neatly demonstrated by the old joke, if nothing is worse than the Devil, and nothing is greater than God, then the Devil must be greater than God:
Devil > (nothing), (nothing) > God
Devil > (nothing) > God
Devil > God
The simplest meaning is: no thing. So if "Nothing" is said to be in a particular place, have a particular quality, then it is meant that "no thing" is there, or has this or that quality. The word "naught" also has this same meaning.
Clauses can often be restated to avoid the appearance that "nothing" posseses an attribute: "There is nothing in the basement" can be restated as "There is not one thing in the basement". "Nothing is missing" can be restated as "everything is present". Conversely, many fallacious conclusions follow from treating "nothing" as a noun.
Modern logic made it possible to articulate these points coherently as intended, and many philosophers hold that the word "nothing" does not function as a noun: there is not any object it refers to. There are still various opposing views, though: that, for example, our understanding of the world rests essentially on noticing absences and lacks as well as presences, and that "nothing" and related words serve to indicate these.


The concept of 'nothing' has been studied throughout history by philosophers and theologians; many have found that careful consideration of the notion can easily lead to the logical fallacy of reification. (If one does not believe that nothing is no thing.) However, many of the existentialist and postmodern philosophers and writers would argue that Nothing is actually the lack or absence of something, rather than of anything.
The understanding of 'nothing' varies widely between cultures, especially between Western and Eastern cultures and philosophical traditions. For instance, Shunyata (emptiness), unlike "nothingness", is considered a state of mind in some forms of Buddhism (see Nirvana, mu, and Bodhi. See also soku hi in Kyoto school). Achieving 'nothing' as a state of mind in this tradition allows someone to be totally 'focused' (in the Western sense of the word) on a thought or activity at a level of intensity they would not be able to achieve if they were 'consciously' thinking. The classic example of this is an archer drawing a bow, attempting to erase their mind as a way to better focus on the shot. Existentialism and Martin Heidegger have brought these two understandings closer together.


In mathematics, nothing does not have a technical meaning. It could be said that a set contains "nothing" if and only if it is the empty set, in which case its cardinality (or size) is zero. In other words, the word "nothing" is an informal term for an empty set. However, since two minus two is also called nothing, it could also refer to the number zero.
In physics, the word nothing is not used in any technical sense. A region of space is called a vacuum if it does not contain any matter. But it can contain physical fields. In fact, it is practically impossible to construct a region of space which contains no matter or fields, since gravity cannot be blocked and all objects at a non-zero temperature radiate electromagnetically. However, supposing such a region existed, it would still not be "nothing", since it has properties and a measurable existence as part of the quantum-mechanical vacuum.
In computing, "Nothing" (VB.Net), or "null" (Java, C#, others), can be a keyword used to represent an unassigned variable, or a pointer that does not point to any particular memory address, or a reference that does not refer to an extant object. Similarly, Null is used in SQL as a symbolic representation of the absence of data. This meta-data usage of "null" is different from the unprintable ASCII and unicode null character, which has a numerical value of zero — although it is different from the ASCII character for zero ("0"). The ASCII blank character (" ") is not the same as an empty string (""), which is itself sometimes confused with the null pointer in languages such as C. Most forms of assembly language have a no-operation (nop) instruction (often with a numerical value of zero) — that is, a command to do nothing, which can prove useful for blanking out areas of problem code.


nothing in Arabic: العدم
nothing in Czech: Absence
nothing in German: Nichts
nothing in Spanish: Nada
nothing in Esperanto: Nenio
nothing in French: Néant
nothing in Italian: Nulla
nothing in Latin: Nihil
nothing in Dutch: Het Niets
nothing in Norwegian: Ingenting
nothing in Polish: Niebyt
nothing in Portuguese: Nada
nothing in Kölsch: Nüüß (wie jaanix)
nothing in Russian: Ничто
nothing in Serbian: Ништа
nothing in Swedish: Ingenting
nothing in Yiddish: גארנישט
nothing in Chinese: 無

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

a little thing, a nobody, a nothing, aught, bagatelle, blank, cipher, clean slate, common man, dud, dummy, empty space, figurehead, good-for-nothing, goose egg, hardly anything, hollow man, inanity, inessential, insignificancy, jackstraw, lay figure, lightweight, little fellow, little guy, man of straw, marginal matter, matter of indifference, mediocrity, mere nothing, minor matter, nada, naught, nebbish, nichts, nihil, nihility, nil, nix, no great matter, no such thing, no-account, no-good, nobody, nobody one knows, nonentity, nothing at all, nothing in particular, nothing on earth, nothing to signify, nothing whatever, nothingness, nought, nullity, obscurity, ought, paltry affair, peanuts, peu de chose, pip-squeak, punk, puppet, pushover, rien du tout, runt, scarcely anything, scrub, shrimp, small fry, small potato, small potatoes, squirt, squit, tabula rasa, technicality, thing of naught, trifle, unworthy, vacuum, valueless, void, whiffet, whippersnapper, wind, zero, zilch
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