Sometimes I never know if I should say nothing or anything.

For example: Should I say

I don't have nothing to do


I don't have anything to do

  • Thank you all. Nice explanations. I'm very happy I have found this site Feb 3 '16 at 21:04

Standard English (from whichever country) does not allow another negative word (no, nothing, nobody, nowhere, never, etc) within the scope of "not": use the corresponding "any" form instead.

Many colloquial varieties of English all over the world do allow this, and many people say "I don't have nothing to do". But at the same time, many speakers don't use such forms, and some judge people harshly who do so.

  • 1
    Ain't nobody got time for that.
    – Era
    Feb 3 '16 at 16:23
  • 2
    @Era: Ain't nobody never gonna disagree with you there! Feb 3 '16 at 17:43
  • 1
    "I have nothing to do" is also a valid form. Feb 3 '16 at 20:31
  • Just to expand on "some judge people harshly who do so", double negatives like "don't have nothing" tend to be part of rural dialects (at least in the US) so some folks associate speaking that way with being uneducated or ignorant.
    – ColleenV
    Feb 3 '16 at 21:21
  • The chief problem for learner is not exactl that they don't understand this, but more that they think anything is a negative word (usually by extension from their own language where they would use a negative word such as nothing where we use a word with a positive meaning). So you could make your answer really helpful if you explain that anything has a positive meaning (would probably require an example) - otherwise these guys will just find it confusing! Feb 4 '16 at 18:50

Nothing = not anything

You use the pronoun nothing to express an absence of things. As it already has a negative word "no" in it, you don't use another negative before or after it. So the sentence:

I have nothing to do = I don't have anything to do.

However, the "nothing" is stronger and more definite than "not anything".

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