Nothing vs. Anything (and something)

In English, we do not use the double negative grammar point, which can lead to mistakes if you use it in your native tongue.

I’d like to write today about when to use ‘nothing’ and ‘anything’.

The word ‘nothing’ is negative, therefore it cannot be used in a sentence that already contains a negative word (no, not).

In the examples below, I have highlighted the negative words. Use only one negative word per sentence.

WRONG: “I don’t do nothing.”

RIGHT: “I do nothing.”
RIGHT: “I don’t do anything.”

WRONG: “She did not have nothing to eat.”

RIGHT: “She had nothing to eat.”
RIGHT: “She did not have anything to eat.”

WRONG: “He don’t have no money.” 

RIGHT: “He doesn’t (does not) have any money.”
RIGHT: “He has no money.”

You might hear double negatives being used in street slang or in movies, but it is not correct grammar.

Something vs. Anything

Sometimes people use these words interchangeably, but there is a slight difference.

Something: refers to an object with a finite quantity that can be selected. It has fewer possibilities.

Anything: refers to infinite objects without quantity – whatever currently exists. This could mean one, many or all. It sounds like a larger and more free selection than ‘something’.

Let’s look at some examples:

“You can have anything you like in this shop.” (Whatever exists)

“She doesn’t know anything about this issue.” It can mean one thing, many things or all things.)


Something is wrong with this picture.” (Not everything is wrong, just one thing, a small selection.)

“I know something about her that you don’t know.” (I don’t know everything, just a finite quantity.”

“She needs to eat something.” (Not everything, just a selection of food.)

Sometimes you can use the words interchangeably:

“Would you like something else?” (From a selection, maybe from a menu)
“Would you like anything else?” (This sounds more inviting and open, without restricting to a selection.”

“Can the doctor do something for her?” (More specific)
“Can the doctor do anything for her?” (This sounds more desperate, like they are asking for any possibility)

The difference is small, but hopefully these examples can help.

The Cookie Chef.

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