I know 也 only as "also", but I see it now and then used in ways difficult to understand, especially in some negative statements. Why is this so? Does 也 also have some meaning not mentioned in dictionaries which is used in these cases?

  • In this case, 也 equals to either/neither in English. That is, 也 can be used as also, too, either, neither. Sounds confusing. :P
    – Flake
    Dec 14, 2011 at 21:30
  • @Flake: It is! I wonder why is this not in any dictionary I have! Dec 14, 2011 at 21:34
  • 2
    Actually, as I can recall, there is no difference between "too" and "either" or "neither" in Chinese at all. E.g. 我也有iPhone <-> 我也没有iPhone. This may be the reason it is not even mentioned -- because there is no difference in Chinese as it is in English between positive and negative forms.
    – Flake
    Dec 14, 2011 at 21:43
  • @Flake This should be a good answer. :)
    – StarCub
    Dec 14, 2011 at 21:57
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    @drHannibalLecter No. These two phrases are examples to demonstrate that equals to both also/too and either in English. ;) Hope this helps.
    – Flake
    Dec 16, 2011 at 0:00

2 Answers 2


什麼都 can be used in both positive and negative statements while 什麼也 is usually used in negative statements. So, instead of focusing on the usage of 也 here, 什麼都 and 什麼也 can be regarded as phrases which are sometimes used interchangeably.

For example:

我們以為什麼都知道,而實際上什麼也不知道。/ 我们以为什么都知道,而实际上什么也不知道。

One possible translation:

We thought we knew/know everything but, in fact, we knew/know nothing at all.

So, it's ok to say (although the above example would read better):

我們以為什麼都知道,而實際上*什麼都*不知道。/ 我们以为什么都知道,而实际上*什么都*不知道。

but odd to say:

我們以為*什麼也*知道,而實際上什麼也不知道。/ 我们以为*什么也*知道,而实际上什么也不知道。

  • good answer.but i never thought about it althrough i say it everyday.
    – macskuz
    Dec 15, 2011 at 4:58

The meaning of the original expression is "I have nothing." But Chinese gets there in a "strange," way.

A more literal translation of the expression is "Everything not have." The "everything" is rendered by "什麼都," which literally translates to "whatever all."

什麼也 gets to the same place in a slightly different way. I would translate it as "whatever included." And a literal translation would be "whatever included, not have," instead of "whatever all" not have.

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