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What is the difference between "何も" and "何でも"?

I have commonly heard that "何も" means "everything/nothing" and "何で" means "anything" until my Japanese teacher (a native speaker) told me that the difference between these two is that "何も" is only used in negative sentences and "なんでも" only in positive sentences.

But then both "何でもいい" and "何でもない" seem to be common grammatically-correct expressions. One is positive and the other is negative.

Could someone please clarify what the actual difference between "何も" and "何でも" is?

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As your teacher say, the opposite meaning of ''なんでも食べる'' is ''なにも食べない'', the opposite of ''なんでもある'' is ''なにもない''.
Now what is ''なんでもない''!?

The expression of its opposite meaning is なにかだ or なにかである, though that is rarely used.

ない in the sentence ''なんでもない'' is not not to exist but just a negative form of 〜だ or 〜である. You can also say ''なんでもありません'' with politeness.

A. この店にはなんでもある。 (This shop has everything.)

B. この店にはなにもない。 (This shop doesn't have anything.)

A and B are spoken about what the shop has. ある and ない in these sentences have the meanings of to exist or not.

When can we use ''なんでもない''?

If your friend looks disappointed and blue, you would ask him or her what happened and say ''どうしたの?''.
S/he can answer ''なんでもない'' if s/he doesn't mention what happened on him or her, or s/he doesn't want to make you worry.



(added)

I want you to think about ''だれもいない'' and ''だれでもない'' too.

''だれもいない'' is Nobody exists. or There is nobody. It's the same usage of ''なにもない''.
While, ''だれでもない'' is It's not anyone. This is the same usage as ''なんでもない''.
Please notice that not いない but ない is used in ''だれでもない'' even though ''いる/いない'' (not ある/ない) should be used for persons. That's because the ない in ''だれでもない'' is not not to exist but just not, is the same as ない in ''私{わたし}は学生{がくせい}ではない''.
So both ''なにもない'' and ''なんでもない'' are grammatical.

  • なにかがある。Something exists.
  • なにもない。Nothing exists.
  • なにかだ。(the same as なにかである) It's something.
  • なんでもない。It's not anything.

  • だれかがいる。Someone exists.
  • だれもいない。Nobody exists.
  • だれかだ。It's someone.
  • だれでもない。It's not anyone.
  • Sorry, maybe I was not clear in my question because I am a bit confused by your answer. I meant the difference between ”何でも” and ”何も”, not the difference between the positive and negative forms of ”何でも”. – cyuan.1999 Jan 16 '16 at 12:59
  • なにもない is ''Nothing exist.'' なんでもない is ''It's nothing.'' for someone's question like ''What's wrong with you?'' – Toshihiko Jan 16 '16 at 13:29
  • @cyuan.1999 I always thought of 何でもない as 何も+ではない (literally: it isn't anything/it's nothing) but when you put them together the も likes to go for a walk to the right and replaces the は (a common feature of も which I've never understood). So your theory about positive and negative holds true. – user3856370 Jan 16 '16 at 14:05
  • Thank you, you explained the difference between these two expressions very well. However, what would be the difference between JUST 何も and 何でも? Only that, WITHOUT the ない. – cyuan.1999 Jan 19 '16 at 9:50
  • 何も can not be considered without ない or しない. So, I have difficulty explaining なにも without ない, I hope someone can explain it well. Please notice that we can NOT use なにも (''what'' + も) for ''all'', だれも (''who'' + も) for ''everyone'', though we can use どれも (''which'' + も) for ''each'', いつも (''when'' + も) for ''usually'', どこも (''where'' + も) for ''everywhere''. – Toshihiko Jan 19 '16 at 21:11
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As far as I know, you wouldn't use 何でも in 何でもない. You would use 何も because it means something like "nothing", which then leads to this whole thing in Japanese with double-negatives. While 何も technically means "nothing", it functions a lot like the adverb [全然]{ぜんぜん}, which means "not at all". Both words can only be used in negative sentences. They're translated to have negative meanings in English, but this is more or less to help convey that you have to use these in negative sentences. Now, I've always been on who learns better by example, so I'm going to give you a few sentences to help explain this perhaps a little better than I can put it into words.

全然できないよ!(I can't do it at all!)

何もない (There isn't anything/There is nothing)

何でもほしいって。 (She says she wants anything)

For further reference: http://www.guidetojapanese.org/forum/viewtopic.php?id=5767

  • 1
    「なんでもない」 is 100% grammatical. It just means a different thing than 「なにもない」. – l'électeur Jan 16 '16 at 6:44

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