The sentence is

However, as it is said that nothing is the least of all things, that there may be a something less than nothing, shall be my next enquiry.

In above link and paragraph, I found the phrase "a something". As far as I know, we don't usually use "a something". Please explain the usage of "a something" to me.

  • He acts like I'm a something moose or up here. this sentence is more troublesome. Feb 7, 2017 at 16:49
  • I think it's just an unusual use of something instead of thing. Normally we would say "There is something less than nothing" or "There is a thing that is less than nothing" but the author probably wanted to parallel something and nothing.
    – stangdon
    Feb 7, 2017 at 16:52

3 Answers 3


This is a ‘metalinguistic’ usage, which uses words not only to express their ordinary meanings but also to subject their meanings to critical analysis.

It is drawn from an essay ‘On Nothing’, which (with some degree of playfulness) inquires into the meaning of the word nothing—particularly as it contrasts with the notion of something.

This requires the author to distinguish between

  1. the word something,
  2. particular entities which the word something may designate, and
  3. the set of entities to which the word something may refer.

In your sentence the author is referring to #3: a something is some particular member of the set ‘something’.

This is an unusual usage, because ordinary language is not designed for talking about itself; but under the circumstances it is entirely proper.


However, as it is said that nothing is the least of all things, that there may be a something less than nothing, shall be my next enquiry.

This is perhaps more difficult to understand because it is Philosophy.

Nothing in this case means: LINK

Nothing, or non-existence, is that which doesn't exist. ... Non-existence is a concept that is meaningless by itself. It isn't something. It is a relational concept, gaining meaning only in comparison to another concept. Non-existence gains meaning only in comparison to existence.

Some thing less than no thing is the gist of this argument. The writer is questioning if nothing is really the least of all things.


To add on to StoneyB's answer: yes, "something" is ordinarily a pronoun, but there are some idiomatic expressions where you will hear people use "a something":

(Offering someone a snack:)

Lunch won't be ready for another hour, but here's a little something to tide you over until then.

(Talking about someone who has some indescribable attractive quality:)

I don't know why I'm fascinated with her, she just has a certain special something.

(Giving someone a monetary bonus for a job well done:)

Hey, thanks for taking care of that for me, Jim. You might find a little extra something in your paycheck this week.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .