"It's very kind of you to look after the baby all day."
"Oh, that's all right, it was nothing, I enjoy it."

In this case, could nothing be replaced by not a thing? What's the difference between nothing and not a thing in general?

  • No, you often can't replace nothing with not a thing, such as in this case. All of the examples I can think of where you could are when either "nothing" or "thing" is the subject of a subordinate clause, but even then nothing can be used where not a thing can't. @StoneyB will likely be able to provide a clearer rule. Sep 29 '13 at 7:29

I think that "not a thing" is used for specifically referring to an actual set of items, whereas in your example it is not.

In these sentences, I have replaced "nothing" with "not a thing".

Correct: Not a thing was stolen when I left the shop unlocked.

Correct: Not a thing is preventing someone from getting in.

Incorrect: I've installed a new lock for you. Don't thank me; it was not a thing.

I feel that "nothing" in the context of politely refusing praise cannot be replaced by "not a thing".

Side note:

"not a thing" can be expanded to "not a single a thing" and "not even a single thing" for emphasis.

  • 3
    In the context of the O.P.'s quote, "it was nothing" is almost idiomatic. I agree with you 100% that "it was not a thing" won't work in that context; however, there are a few acceptable alternatives, such as: "it wasn't anything" or, "it was no trouble at all."
    – J.R.
    Sep 29 '13 at 12:01
  • 1
    Very true! For that purpose, I suppose honorable mention should be given to "It ain't no thang." as a very colloquial substitute.
    – Ghosty
    Sep 29 '13 at 12:11
  • 1
    Wow! You guys expanded my horizon. I never heard of "It ain't no thang." And @J.R. i prefer using "it was no trouble at all" cause it's a cordial answer. Oct 1 '13 at 7:14

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