Just as the word empty is saying that something is of volume zero I wonder if there is a word that says that something is of length zero or has a duration of zero.

Sample Sentence:

The program should terminate if the calculated period is _______.

  • I'd use "instantaneous", for zero duration.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 12:22
  • 1
    You could re-work your sentence to read: "The program should terminate if the calculated period evaluates to zero.", replacing is with evaluates to.
    – bvpx
    Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 22:45
  • 2
    What's wrong with saying that the period is zero if that's what the calculation yielded?
    – Lawrence
    Commented Feb 7, 2017 at 8:33
  • I am not sure that the recent edit has really improved the question. The reference to playback implies that what is sought is a technical term that is to be used in some highly specific context; the original version of the question was much more general. The question should be reopened anyway.
    – jsw29
    Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 16:13
  • "Empty" doesn't mean "volume zero."
    – alphabet
    Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 20:42

4 Answers 4


Well, you can just use zero in this particular case. The beauty of zero is that units don't matter; zero seconds is the same as zero years.

A related word is instantaneous:

done, occurring, or acting without any perceptible duration of time

(source: Merriam-Webster)

but you wouldn't use it in this sample sentence.


"O-length" and "zero-length" are profusely used in mathematics and physics textbooks, which would suggest that a better word is still to be found. Sorry.

P.S.: The term "null" is quite popular but I'm not sure that it has a legitimate place in non-tech literature.

  • See this question regarding whether zero and null perfect synonyms: english.stackexchange.com/questions/3161/…
    – k1eran
    Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 9:57
  • Personally I don't think they are but a thorough discussion would bring us deep into mathematical philosophy. The doubt is rather whether "null" (in English) is an accepted word in non-geek talk.
    – user218421
    Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 10:31

Zero works as already pointed out. If you want to avoid it for some reason, you can use nil. A lesser used synonym is zilch.

The program should terminate if the calculated period is nil.


nil noun

: nothing, zero

They took a 2 to nil lead in the second half of the game.

zilch adjective or noun

: zero, nothing

  • The OP’s sample sentence seems to be fairly formal; e.g., it could come from a system specification or requirements document.   The word “nil” strikes me as informal; “zilch” even more so.   P.S. I am American; are these words considered more formal in Br.E? Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 18:11

There is word that fits your definition, although it doesn't fit your example sentence.



  1. indefinitely or exceedingly small; minute: infinitesimal vessels in the circulatory system.

  2. immeasurably small; less than an assignable quantity: to an infinitesimal degree.

  3. of, relating to, or involving infinitesimals.


  1. an infinitesimal quantity.

  2. Mathematics. a variable having zero as a limit.


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