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Naught vs. Nought

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  Marius Alza  —  Grammar Tips
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Naught vs. Nought

The source of some of the most confusing spelling differences in English can be placed in the evolution of the English vocabulary over the past decades.

American English and British English vary a lot in pronunciation and, therefore, spelling of the same words often differs through only one or two letters. A great example to illustrate the differences created this way is the pair of words "naught" and "nought".

Generally referring to the same thing, they are still used in different contexts. So let's explain them properly so you understand when you should use "naught" and when "nought" is recommended.

Naught vs. Nought

The definition and explanation for the word "naught" are simple. "Naught" is a pronoun mainly used in the US and it can be replaced with the word "nothing". It is an old-fashioned word, rarely used even in the US. As a result, you will almost never find it spelled like this in the UK.

"Nought", on the other hand, carries the same meaning as "naught" as a pronoun, but it is mainly used in the UK. It is also old-fashioned, so it is rarely used even in the UK and almost never in American English. But in addition to this sense, "nought" is also synonym with "zero" in British English and can replace it in certain contexts.

When do we use "naught"?

Because it's an old-fashioned word, you'll almost never hear "naught" used nowadays. In contemporary vocabulary, "nothing" is much more frequently used. But when you do use it, make sure you spell it like this when communicating in American English. That's where it will be welcomed.

Example: I am just an ordinary person, naught more. - "naught" replaces "nothing" here.

When do we use "nought"?

Again, you'll almost never hear it used nowadays because it's an old-fashioned word and we have other modern nouns and pronouns for it today. But when you do use it, it will best fit in British English, whether you refer to "nothing" or to "zero".

Example 1: That man was nought before starting to work in your company. - "nought" can be replaced by "nothing".

Example 2: Add another nought to that $10 and make it $100 for me, otherwise I will not work for you. - "nought" refers to "zero".

Conclusion

Both "naught" and "nought" are correct and old-fashioned, rarely used nowadays in English. But while "naught" is mainly used in the US, "nought" is the spelling preferred in the UK.
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7 Comments

  • dennisc.52159
    Apologies for the redundant comment. I thought the first failed to go through, so I tried again, rewriting in the process.
    LikeReplyReport2 months ago
  • dennisc.52159
    A surviving idiomatic usage, even in America, is illustrated thus: "If we fail in that, then all our effort will have been for naught" or "...will come to naught." Also, it's important to distinguish between its being a synonym for the word "zero" and its being the name for the numeral. The former is old-fashioned, the latter remains current, at least in Britain. 
    LikeReplyReport 12 months ago
  • dennisc.52159
    While it's true that either word in the sense of "nothing" is old-fashioned, an example of its still-current idiomatic usage would be "If we fail in that, all our efforts will have been for naught" or "... will come to naught." Also, I'd say it remains current as the name of the numeral zero, but is old-fashioned as a general synonym for the word. 
    LikeReplyReport 12 months ago
  • Emma
    The long explanation says "nought" is preferred in the UK and "naught" in the US. The summation at the bottom says the opposite. 
    LikeReplyReport 11 year ago
  • Wilf Trinidad
    Marius, you described both words differently than in your conclusion. As far as I know, "naught" is British and "nought" is American.
    LikeReplyReport1 year ago
  • Oskar Limka
    Is there a swap in the last sentence? As written now it contradicts the rest of the text, from which one deduces the mnemonic "nAught in America, nOught in Old England".
    LikeReplyReport 21 year ago
  • Robert Lynch
    ... Except in science of course. Full of words that might be archaic in general public, but remain quite current in Maths. For instance, H^^0, also known as Hubbles constant. It is in mathematical language, H-nought, pronounced as is obvious. We use that nought thing a lot in mathematics and especially physics (which really is just a fascinating branch of mathematics in the end). Similary, yet increasingly frequently, one might also talk about H-zero. But ... it really isn't the same thing, since 'zero' in the context of a subscript in mathematics indicates its index position in a table. H[0], H[1], H[2] and so forth -- aych-zero, aych-one, aych-two etc. Aych-nought is entirely different, see? It is the REFERENCE H. The constant. The named-for-a-genius-who-discovered-it constant. THANK YOU folks for the excellent write-up tho'. It is almost amusing to read up on the other 'archaic pair' ... ought and aught. Which don't mean a thing related to nought and naught. 
    LikeReplyReport 22 years ago

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