Italian Word of the Day: Niente (nothing / anything)

English speakers are taught from an early age that putting more than one negative in a sentence is grammatically incorrect. In fact, I’m sure my English teacher would have spontaneously combusted had I ever written “I don’t have nothing,” in one of my essays!

Not so in Italian! In the language of love, it is perfectly acceptable to use two or even three negatives in one sentence as we’ll discover by analysing our word of the day: niente.

IPA: /ˈnjɛn.te/

Niente, which is the word for nothing (and sometimes anything) in Italian, frequently appears with the negative adverb non to form a double negative.

Che noia – non ho niente da fare!

What a drag – I’ve got nothing to do!
What a drag – I haven’t got anything to do!

Niente with the verb fare (to do) can be used to say that something doesn’t matter.

Mi sono dimenticato di comprare il latte. – Non fa niente, ne rimane ancora un po’.

I forgot to buy milk. It doesn’t matter, there’s a bit left.

It can also appear with non and other negative adverbs such as mai (ever/never), più (any more/no longer) or ancora (not yet/still) to form a triple negative. Whenever there are three negatives in a sentence, it is always translated as anything in English.

Non hai mangiato ancora niente. Stai male?

You haven’t eaten anything yet. Are you unwell?

Perché non hai mai niente da dire?

Why don’t you ever have anything to say?
Why do you never have anything to say?

Non riesco più a fare niente.

I can’t do anything anymore.

Niente can also exist on its own without any other negatives as in the examples below.

Niente è come sembra.

Nothing is as it seems.

Ti serve niente dalla cucina?

You don’t need anything from the kitchen?

Si è comportato come se niente fosse.

He acted as if nothing had happened.

When preceded by the preposition per, you get the phrase per niente which means not at all. It can also be translated as an absolute no.

Non mi ha dato fastidio per niente.

It didn’t bother me at all.

Non ho per niente voglia di farlo.

I have no desire whatsoever to do it.

The noun niente is the word Italians use to describe nothingness, nonexistence or the void.

Non c'è "niente" che mi piacerebbe di più che condividere queste espressioni con voi! 😉
No ho niente da fare. = I have nothing to do.

Useful expressions featuring niente

  • niente di niente = absolutely nothing
  • niente a che vedere = nothing to do with
  • manco per niente = not at all
  • niente male = not bad
  • niente di tutto ciò = nothing of the sort
  • far finta di niente = act as if nothing has happened
  • non c’entra niente = it has nothing to do with it

Idioms featuring “niente”

Non avere niente da invidiare a (qualcosa)

Literal: to not have anything to envy
Meaning: to be as good as (something)

Niente nuove, buone nuove

Literal: no news, good news
Meaning: no news is good news

Non mi dice niente

Literal: it doesn’t say anything to me
Meaning: it doesn’t ring a bell

Tutto fumo, niente arrosto

Literal: all smoke, no roast
Meaning: all talk, no action

Il dolce far niente

Literal: the sweet act of doing nothing
Meaning: pleasant idleness

Nothing to wear concept. Beautiful young woman dressed casually feeling frustrated standing among multicolored clothes in her wardrobe, speaking on mobile phone with friend, asking for advice
Non ho niente da mettermi! – I have nothing to wear!

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