Defining “Nothing”

One of the trickiest things to define is “nothing.” Why is it difficult to define? Once you try to define “nothing,” it becomes something. Even if you think of “nothing” as an abstract concept, it still would not be nothing, as then it would be an abstract concept.

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Then how do we define “nothing” if it is impossible to do so? We can try to define it by saying that we can say nothing about it. At least that avoids it being concretely related to the word “undefined,” which is more about not being able to set limits on something or set a meaning to something. In the case of “nothing,” we cannot say anything about it.

Though Oxford dictionaries defines “nothing” as “1. not anything; no single thing” and “2. something that is not at all important or interesting” this is still saying something about it (Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries). But I guess you might as well say “nothing” is something that cannot be discussed. However, we used the word “something” and now we have come to another dead end.

In physics, we understand there cannot be truly nothing, as even in a total vacuum—where there is no gravity, particles, or energy—quantum fluctuations appear and disappear constantly, (Cain, Fraser). Creating a space where there are no quantum fluctuations requires an enormous amount of energy, and there would be a remnant of that energy in that space after the fluctuations have been flushed out, plus an unstable environment (1veritasium). So even on a physical level, “nothing” cannot be present.

In defining nothing, it is best to keep our mouths shut, as it cannot be defined by any means. “Nothing,” in fact, does not exist; as if it did, it would not be nothing. In this perspective, we might say the best definition of “nothing” is that it is something that is not something, which is quite a contradiction. We have a word for “nothing,” but that does not mean there is such a thing as “nothing.”


  1. “Nothing Pronoun – Definition, Pictures, Pronunciation and Usage Notes | Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary at” Nothing Pronoun – Definition, Pictures, Pronunciation and Usage Notes | Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary at N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2016.
  2. Cain, Fraser. “What is Nothing?” – News and Articles on Science and Technology. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2016.
  3. 1veritasium. “Empty Space is NOT Empty.” YouTube. YouTube, 2013. Web. 02 Dec. 2016.


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