I do understand the meaning of "if anything" in the context. I can understand each word individually.

Here is the text:

In the past it was a common belief that snakes couldn't hear much, if anything, since they have no external ears and don't seem to respond much to noises. However, some scientific research refutes this common misconception.

I feel like the text is understandable without saying "if anything" so why does the writer put it in the text?

  • 2
    It's just the emphasis : "if they (snakes ) could hear anything at all."
    – V.V.
    Feb 18, 2016 at 9:26

2 Answers 2


If anything is a an idiom used to describe a very small amount of something.

if anything (at all)
if (there is) anything

The price of the book, if anything, is a dollar.
That city, if anything, is a nice place to visit.

A similar phrase

if nothing else

has the same meaning as if (there is) anything

That city, if nothing else, is a nice place to visit.


V.V's comment is correct. "If anything" is mostly being used for emphasis. It restates what's already clearly stated (as having been believed): that snakes can hear very little. However, it does so by opening up the possibilities a bit, implying it's possible that some snakes can't hear at all.

It can be removed without changing the meaning significantly.

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