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Consider the below sentence.

Nothing is as painful as what he went through.

What part of speech does 'nothing' belong to? Traditionally, it is analysed as a pronoun, but I am not too convinced by this analysis: for instance, whereas 'nothing' can be followed by a modifier (as in Thus far he has suggested nothing helpful), pronouns are very limited in both the type and range of modifiers that they allow. The pronoun She in the sentence She was denied access cannot be modified by a pre-head modifier (Young she was denied access is not grammatical), nor can it be modified by a post-head modifier (apart from a relative clause, though She who committed the crime was denied access does sound very archaic).

Thoughts?

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    "Nothing" is an indefinite pronoun. What do you mean by "pronouns are very limited in both the type and range of modifiers that they allow", and how does it apply to this context? Please edit your question to clarify
    – gotube
    Commented Jul 10, 2022 at 15:23
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    It's actually a compound determinative (see my answer). You are right that it can take special post-head dependents (called 'restrictors') as in nothing sensible will come of this.
    – BillJ
    Commented Jul 10, 2022 at 16:56
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    In "nothing is as painful as x", nothing is a subject, otherwise there would be no sentence.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jul 10, 2022 at 17:04
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    @gotube See BillJ's answer. Commented Jul 10, 2022 at 23:03
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    @Eric You are right not to be convinced. It's true that "nothing" is tradionally analysed as a pronoun. It shares with pronouns the property that it always functions as head in NP structure, but it differs from pronouns in that it can freely take post-head modifiers, as in the example I gave above.
    – BillJ
    Commented Jul 11, 2022 at 7:26

3 Answers 3

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Nothing is as painful as what he went through.

"Nothing" belongs solely to the word class (part of speech) determinative; more specifically it's a compound determinative.

It functions as determiner-head, with the syntactic fusion of the two functions marked by the morphological compounding of a determinative base "no" with a nominal one "thing".

It's true that "nothing" is tradionally analysed as a pronoun. It shares with pronouns the property that it always functions as head in NP structure, but it differs from a pronoun in that it can freely take post-head modifiers, as in "Nothing sensible will come of this".

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    Oxford Dictionary via Google: GRAMMAR a modifying word that determines the kind of reference a noun or noun group has, for example a, the, every. That is not what nothing is here.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jul 10, 2022 at 16:57
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    @Lambie Oxford publish grammars of English and also dictionaries. It's best to go to the grammars for grammar. Oxford Modern English Grammar gives the part of speech as determiner. (=determinative here). Commented Jul 10, 2022 at 23:34
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Grammarians and lexicologists often differ on how they categorize words into "parts of speech", so you'll get different answers to this question. (In fact, you already have!) If you'd like to analyze "nothing" as a pronoun, then feel free to do so. Those who take that approach allow some indefinite pronouns (unlike most other pronouns) to be followed by modifiers (including adjectives). For example:

Something extraordinary is happening.
Do you have anybody special in mind?
Everyone interested should sign up immediately.

You may be interested in tchrist's recent discussion of this on EL&U.

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Nothing is sacred. Subject: nothing
Verb: is Predicate: is sacred.

If nothing were not a noun there, there would be no sentence.

nothing there is a noun.

Nothing mattered to her.

nothing there is a noun.

If nothing were not a noun there, there would be no sentence.

Merriam Webster_nothing

The word nothing can be: a pronoun, noun, adverb and adjective.

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