Can I write

I checked it, but nothing

instead of

I checked it but couldn't find anything



"But nothing" is too incomplete to be an independent clause, so "I checked it, but nothing" would not be a well formed sentence.

Very informally, one might possibly say:

I checked. Nothin'.

… but I would recommend against it for an English learner.

What could be an acceptable sentence would be:

I checked it, but found nothing.

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  • Just to make it clear, this should be understood (in the context of the conversation) without any issues by any native speaker. – Kik Oct 5 '16 at 15:59

It depends on the context. "I checked it, but nothing" is colloquial or informal. It is not formal.

For example, you would not say that as a doctor talking to a patient. I would not use it in any professional context.

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I checked it, but nothing.

This not a sentence, even in the most radical of grammars. However, it would certainly be seen in reported speech, in journalism or fiction. There, it might be taken to mean:

I checked it, but nothing (was there/was happening/had happened/was new/&c.)

Your proposed replacement sentence is grammatical, but would be improved by the addition of a comma:

I checked it, but couldn't find anything.

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