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Two people don't seem to have anything in common, and I need to ask if this is actually true or not.

Should I say...

  • 'Do they really have nothing in common?'

or

  • 'Do they really have anything in common?'
  • 1
    'have nothing in common' is an idiom you should use as it is in your case, but the 'anything' question is not wrong, it only is another question. – user2793 Dec 5 '13 at 22:23
  • Hmm. I'm afraid I don't see how it would be an idiom. It seems compositional to me. – snailcar Dec 6 '13 at 0:19
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In these sentences, "do they really" essentially means "is it really true that they". If you rewrite the sentences like that, it should become clear which is correct:

Is it really true that they have nothing in common?

Is it really true that they have anything in common?

Obviously the version with nothing is correct (the statement you are curious about is "They have nothing in common"); the version with anything doesn't make any sense.

But what you might be interested in is a similar question using anything:

Do they have anything in common?

This asks simply that; do they have anything in common? By itself, there is no implication that the speaker thinks they do or don't (but it's likely that intonation would make this clear.) Since your question referred to confirming an existing suspicion, you might consider a conversation like this.

Person A: Do they have anything in common?

Person B: They both know the sky is blue?

Person C: Oh, come on. Do they really have nothing in common?

You might also consider this common variant, as mentioned by StoneyB in comments:

Don't they have anything in common?

Note that anything is stressed, and don't is used rather than do. The implication is that the speaker is surprised to learn that the people supposedly don't have anything in common, and is checking that this assumption is true.

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  • 1
    How 'bout "Don't they have anything in common?" – StoneyB on hiatus Dec 5 '13 at 23:46
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    "Do they really have anything in common?" could make sense if you were responding to a supposition that they do have something in common, and you were using really to emphasize your doubt that this was the case--basically, the opposite of what your Person C is saying. – snailcar Dec 6 '13 at 0:04
  • It sounds like WendiKidd's answer is good for general usage, but @snailboat's comment is the real answer to "Do they really have anything in common?". – Damkerng T. Dec 6 '13 at 5:22
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The content in this answer was taken from EC English.

Anything means a thing of any kind. Use it in questions and negative sentences. It can also be used to to mean I don't mind.

‘Anything’ is any object, event, fact, state, or act. It is all that exists either seen or unseen. It is something or an idea that has essence; existing by exhibiting the potential of being and becoming something. It is an indefinite pronoun that is used instead of a noun or noun phrases. It is used to describe something that exists and is present like an object that you can touch, an event that you can witness, a fact that you are certain of, or an act that can affect others.

Nothing means no single thing. Used as subjects of a sentence or question.

Nothing is the concept that describes the lack of anything. It is used to describe an unimportant thing, event, state, or act. It is the state of nonexistence and of not having anything. It is an indefinite pronoun, and it is sometimes being used as a noun, which is incorrect since it does not function as a noun because it refers to no object, event, state, or act. It refers to something or the absence of something.

Anything is used when the verb is negative.

a) He didn’t say anything.
b) They didn’t do anything wrong.
c) I don’t know anything about physics.

Nothing is used when the verb is affirmative.

d) He said nothing.
e) They did nothing wrong.
f) I know nothing about physics.

What’s the difference?

There is little difference in the meaning between nothing and anything. For instance, examples (a) and (d) have the exact same meaning. The only difference is that one verb is negative and the other is affirmative.

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  • This information is good. But what is your answer to the OP's question? – Damkerng T. Dec 6 '13 at 5:17

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