How does 何でもない work in terms of grammar to mean nothing?

I am confused because I'm not sure which of these is happening (or even if it is one of these):

1: Is it getting 何で (why) and then adding も to make it mean 何でも (anything) and then adding ない (not), therefore not anything (nothing).

2: Is it getting 何 (what) then using the でも particle, if it is which meaning of でも is it using? Also after than that which is ない added -> 何でもない

How does the grammar actually work? I am very confused about this expression.


The grammar follows your second pattern. The structure 〜でも translates to "even__" (source: Makino & Tsutsui, Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar, page 111), or more idiomatically in this particular case, "__ at all."

何___ない translates literally to "no what" (nothing). Just as we say "nowhere" to mean "no place," we could imagine saying "no what" to mean "nothing."

Putting the two together gives us "nothing at all."

In actual usage, people seem to say 何でもない to mean "I'm all right" or "No problem", like if someone asked them if something was the matter. If they want to say an emphatic "Nothhhhing at all", they might be more likely to say なんんんにもない.

  • Very well explained. Thank you so much!
    – batv1
    Jun 20 '20 at 14:34

何でもない = It's nothing (when used as a phrase in itself), or trifling (if part of a sentence)

It's an idiom (慣用句), the more formal phrasing would be 何も気にすることではない = It's nothing to worry about.

-- Starfox

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