Which is better?

They want nobody's sympathy.


They don't want anyone's sympathy.

I know both are grammatically correct, but I think they should be used for different occasions. One means something slightly different. Am I right?

Also, is there any word like 'no-one'?

  • "They want no one's sympathy."
    – Hot Licks
    Apr 20, 2015 at 12:39

2 Answers 2


The second is preferable. The first is grammatical, but sounds odd (AmE ear).

I cannot think of any occasion where it would be better to say "They want nobody's sympathy," except in some literary or poetic context, for rhythm or rhyme reasons.

But it might be mistaken as "want for" (as in "he wants for nothing", meaning he has everything he could ever want); thus [wanting for] nobody's sympathy could conceivably be misconstrued to mean he had everybody's sympathy.

Or one might also say "They want sympathy from {nobody/no one}." (note: no hyphen in "no one")


The first is a bit rural/uneducated or in this case Black/AAVE:

Leavin' a Testimony: Portraits from Rural Texas - Page 23 Patsy Cravens - 2010

"I always said, I don't want nobody's bloodstain on my hand, nobody's. Uh-uh, 'cause that's a hard thing to go with, 'cause my uncle killed a man, and that worried him. That worried him — he told me that. He would see this man. This man was ...

but it's out there. See at Google Books:

"want nobody's sympathy" 6 results

thus the 2nd would be preferable, except in special cases showing such characters.

  • I think this answer makes a poor assumption. What’s rural/uneducated is the double negative “don’t want nobody” in your example. However OP usage does not contain a double negative and in fact sounds odd because it’s of a slightly higher than normal register not lower.
    – Jim
    Jan 30, 2021 at 0:06

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