Since なにも seems to only mean nothing with a negative verb if you want to use a phrase for example "The dog barked at nothing" in Japanese how would you express it? Is it 犬がなにもに吠えなかった because that seems wrong to me.

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    Does "The dog barked at nothing" mean "The dog didn't bark at anything" (犬はなににも吠えなかった)? or, "The dog barked at a place where there's nothing"?
    – chocolate
    Jan 21, 2017 at 17:14
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    To me, "My dog barks at nothing" means "My dog barks even though it has no reason to", i.e. "at" has nothing to do with geographical orientation. But that might just be me.
    – Arthur
    Jan 21, 2017 at 23:31
  • I feel like I sitll haven't gotten an answer to this, and that people got a bit too hung up on the dog example... Maybe other examples ("I tripped over nothing", "He fell out of the spaceship into nothing"?) would have helped people. :(
    – obskyr
    Feb 1, 2017 at 8:59
  • @obskyr The dog barked at nothing 犬がなにもないに吠えた。 I tripped over nothing なにもないに躓けた。 He fell out of the spaceship into nothingness 宇宙船から虚無に落ち込んでしまった。 The first two examples using "nothing", the primary semantic interpretation is that an action took place without an normally expected cause. The third example has an entirely different semantic meaning, which would be better expressed by the English word nothingness. Compare: "The dog barked into (the) nothingness" - the semantic meaning is clear. "I tripped over nothingness" --- hmmm. Doesn't work. Feb 1, 2017 at 18:21

3 Answers 3


As luck would have it, there is a special word can be used to express barking at nothing: "mudaboe" 無駄吠え。E.g. 犬は無駄吠えした。(It can also be used to express excessive barking in general.)


Edit: I took "The dog barked at nothing" as "The dog barked at a place where there is nothing." Sorry if I have misunderstood.

I think there is no word in Japanese that exactly matches that "nothing." So you have to describe the situation more concretely. For example:

The dog barked at nothing.

Here, 「Aに向かって吠える」 is a typical translation of "bark at A". And 「何もない所」 is "the space where nothing exists."

Maybe, the word 「[虚空]{こくう}」 (== empty space) is closer:


But this word sounds literary; not used in daily conversations.

Or 「[無]{む}」 may express the idea of nothing being existing (cf. 無を取得) but it sounds too paradoxical and less natural.

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    I wonder how does it work in study fields like philosophy where words like 'nothing' are so important Jan 21, 2017 at 22:15
  • @FelipeOliveira I think 「[無]{む}」 is good to express "the idea of nothing."   Treating 「無」 as if it is a concrete thing, sounds philosophical. Jan 22, 2017 at 3:01

I'm not a "pro" by any means, but I feel like omitting the object "nothing" should make justice to it. First, why would you want to say that "dog barked at nothing" when it's easier to simply say that "dog barked". Trying to find a reason for saying that "dog barked at nothing" in Japanese, but I'm unable to.


Hope that you'll find the right answer.

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    In English we say "the dog barked" when the dog has no particular reason for barking. We say "the dog barked at nothing" when the dog behaves as if it perceives something to bark at, but we don't see anything. Does that make sense?
    – zwol
    Jan 21, 2017 at 18:50
  • You see, that's the thing. In English. For me language is mostly a matter of a gut feeling - you should not only know, but also feel the language. I don't feel like there's a necessity to say "Dog barked at nothing" in Japanese. hope that makes sense :) Jan 21, 2017 at 18:56
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    They're so different, though. When "the dog barked," it just made a noise; there is no emotional impact. When "the dog barked at nothing," it creates a feeling of foreboding, fear, and creepiness, because we cannot understand the mystery of the dog's barking. They are very different.
    – AHelps
    Jan 21, 2017 at 21:39
  • Now, we got to a point, were we need to know, what are the first thoughts of japanese people, when they hear a dog barking at nothing. That should solve the mystery. It keeps getting more, and more interesting :) Jan 21, 2017 at 21:53

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