Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Are nil and null interchangeable? For example,

My bank a/c has a nil balance.

My bank a/c has a null balance.

share|improve this question
    
Actually I think it is zero balance far better way to say this. There are different names of zero in different occasions. Nil is for football score. I suppose null can be used as it is about figures. There are a lot of questions about that just check it out here. –  speedyGonzales Mar 16 '12 at 8:05
    
possible duplicate of Is there a real difference between "null" and "zero"? (as implied in the top answer there, nil equates to zero) –  FumbleFingers Mar 16 '12 at 15:00
    
What does "a/c" stand for in this context? Obviously not "air conditioning"... –  Marthaª Mar 16 '12 at 15:46
    
@Marthaª, a/c-->account –  Vijin Paulraj Mar 16 '12 at 15:57
    
@VijinPaulraj: really? Then why the slash? IME a slash is used in abbreviations to indicate separate words; it seems... misleading to use it between the first two letters of a word. –  Marthaª Mar 16 '12 at 16:00
show 2 more comments

4 Answers

Null is also used in physics and electronics. Here's a description of a Null comparator using a Wheatstone bridge. Null tends to describe something with no net value, but possibly the sum of large values of opposing signs, while nil implies a value of 0.

share|improve this answer
add comment

NULL is used in computing most often (always?) to signify "not a value." This is different than zero: in a bank database, a zero value means no money, while a NULL value means there has been no value assigned to the balance.

This is a specialized usage, but increasingly common as more people learn to program.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Null is also used in mathematics (a null set) and science (null hypothesis). I can't think of a time when nil is used in those areas.

Etymologically, null is from French, and nil is from Latin.

share|improve this answer
    
Nilpotent is a common term, usually written as one word and sometimes as two, nil potent. Per ngrams for nil potent,nil - potent it appears all or nearly all of the hyphenated instances (like "nil- potent") result from end-of-line hyphenation. –  jwpat7 Mar 18 '12 at 19:03
    
But Ruby and Lua, even Golang uses nil instead of null. –  jiyinyiyong Oct 7 '13 at 0:10
add comment

Almost the only time you hear or see null is in the legal expression ‘null and void’, while nil normally indicates that a football team has scored no goals. If the bottom line of your bank statement shows neither a credit nor a debit, what you have is a zero balance.

share|improve this answer
    
+1. Nice answer like always @Barrie England. I am happy my comment is so similar although I haven't read your answer before posting it. –  speedyGonzales Mar 16 '12 at 8:09
    
i dunno about other countries. But in India, here banks provide a special a/c i.e, no-frills a/c. and that is often called as null balance a/c, nil balance a/c, zero balance a/c. –  Vijin Paulraj Mar 16 '12 at 8:16
1  
As a side note, nil is rarely used in the U.S. for sports scores; nothing is used far more often (or, in place of nothing, one might hear zero, or even zip). The one exception I hear is when ardent soccer fans are discussing a soccer match ("Spain beat Portugal 2-0," [pronounced "two-nil"]; but, "The Falcons beat the Seahawks 10-0," [pronounced "ten-nothing"]). As a side note to my side note, very ardent soccer fans will refer to soccer as "real football." :^) –  J.R. Mar 16 '12 at 8:32
    
A good example then, @Vijin, of Indian English, but I don't quite understand how a bank can offer a zero balance account. The whole point of a bank account, surely, is either to have a plus or a minus balance. –  Barrie England Mar 16 '12 at 8:42
    
@BarrieEngland, wiki.answers.com/Q/What_is_no_frills_account the above mentioned a/c is called nil,null,zero balance a/c –  Vijin Paulraj Mar 16 '12 at 9:04
show 1 more comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.