I understand the contradiction in my title and this post is exactly about that.

Considering the definitions of a noun by Oxford and by Cambridge, an idea is very possibly a thing. My question is whether anything is not a thing? I have seen the definitions of a thing at Oxford and other places but these are confusing to me.

My question is two-fold:

  1. Is 'thing' a word we use to describe anything that we can imagine and is possible? (Both by definition and in casual social settings)
  2. Is the fact that the word 'thing' is part of the words everything and anything make every possible concept a thing?

They are kind of the same question but I would appreciate a slightly different outlook to answer each. Thanks!

Note: To be clear, I am asking about the actual definitions of these words and the usage of the word 'thing'. Please read the tags.

Edit: So far, the closest I have got to answers are:

  • Concepts that involve more than a singular unit of itself cannot seem to be called a thing. A thing can be a collection of things however (eg. keyboards are not a thing but are things. As are the keys that compose them. Individually, they are a thing though.)
  • We usually call solid instances things but this is not a rule at all. (eg. the sun, a bottle of water, an empty ballon vs. a filled balloon, etc...)
  • Scale seems to matter. Something we might call a thing from afar might not be a thing up close (eg. the sun, a city, a person, reflections, etc...)
  • What's next?
  • 3
    I'll have what @Akaisteph7 is having. Dec 12 '17 at 23:05
  • 5
    I'm not sure this is a linguistic question. You might get more analytical answers over at philosophy.stackexchange.com
    – Mitch
    Dec 12 '17 at 23:27
  • 2
    Well, now, if your universe of discourse is anything, I suppose they're all things.
    – Lawrence
    Dec 13 '17 at 3:58
  • 3
    Flagged mods to consider migrating this to Philosophy.SE (I think it's a good question there). The question is more about the philosophy of (perhaps) ontology, rather than about the mechanics or common usage of the English language. I.e., in the ontological mapping between the word 'thing' and what that word signifies, ELU.SE is more relevant if the emphasis is on the word (e.g. definition, nuance, connotation) and Philosophy.SE is more relevant if the emphasis is on what the word signifies (e.g. zen nothingness, or here, anti(?)-zen thing-ness).
    – Lawrence
    Dec 13 '17 at 4:09
  • 2
    This is one of those taking-the-piss questions.
    – Lambie
    Dec 13 '17 at 19:13

Absolute zero (maybe)? Or, is that an oxymoron (an existing contradition)? Even a single question is not a singular, defined thing (until it is asked).

Elsewise, (probably) - (absolutely) nothing then (zero)... You can't define infinite ideas or impossibilities as absolutes (things).


https://www.livescience.com/25959-atoms-colder-than-absolute-zero.html https://www.thefreedictionary.com/absolute+zero


  • I think an infinite set could be called a thing; infinity itself in the abstract I'm less sure about.
    – Stuart F
    Sep 30 at 14:43
  • "Absolute zero" is a scientific "concept", but it is not a "thing" as in the real or tangible sense of the word.
    – user22542
    Sep 30 at 23:38

My question is two-fold:

  1. Is 'thing' a word we use to describe anything that we can imagine and is possible? (Both by definition and in casual social settings)

  2. Is the fact that the word 'thing' is part of the words everything and anything make every possible concept a thing?

The short etymology of “thing” is given at Online Etymology Dictionary https://www.etymonline.com/word/thing#etymonline_v_10758

As I agree that the question in more philosophical than linguistic, I’ll answer in a philosophical style:

In 1, “that we can imagine and is possible” is too restrictive. Not only are “things” abstract,

“The thing is that he can’t get up.” (circumstance)

“When things are as bad as this, we must think of how to save money.”

they are also concrete.

“What that thing you’re holding?”

Secondly, it does not matter if we can imagine them or not – if someone can (no matter how deluded that person or idea may be) they are a “thing”.

“There is this thing that lets my finundrum fly.”

”What’s a finumdrum?”

“Ah only I know that, a voice told me… it is a thing that we all have… you would not understand.”

(Don’t bother trying to find “finundrum” in a dictionary… I made it up.)

Finally, a thing does not need to be possible:

An aquatic leopard that changes to a lamppost each time Earth leaves the solar system is a “thing”.

In 2, the connection between the words everything and anything has no effect on thing. Every- and any- are simply adjectival.

To address a point raised elsewhere, a thing may be a person. “Thing” is often used in a derogatory sense to indicate that the person referred to does not qualify to be a person:

“A son! A son! You expect me to call that thing a son! He killed my wife!”

You do not say if you wish to consider the plural: “things” but whereas “thing” has a referent of one unit of something, “things” may refer to several units in one category or multiple units in multiple categories.

“What are those things doing on the table?”

“They are the screws for the cabinet I’m assembling.”

“What are those things doing on the table?”

“Sorry, the papers are my essay, the glass has oil in it, and I am using the tools to mend the clock.”

Thing appears to have no limit on its applicability to all objects (real or imagined) and concepts.

  • Nothing is no thing.
    – tchrist
    Sep 30 at 12:17
  • :) "Thing" must exist for its absence to exist. A: "What is in there?" B:"Nothing is the thing that is in there - it is empty."
    – Greybeard
    Sep 30 at 12:27

OED, sense 3a of thing defines it as:

3a. A matter with which one is concerned (in action, speech, or thought); an affair, a business, a concern, a subject. Now usually in plural: affairs, matters, circumstances.

If it is anything with which one can be concerned, then it must cover anyTHING, including space which is noTHING.


Here's an answer from Schoolhouse Rock. A noun can be a person, place, or thing.

Clearly, therefore, if something is a person or a place, it cannot be a thing.

  • Then is it really something? This does touch on the second part of my question though..
    – Akaisteph7
    Oct 21 '18 at 21:31
  • Corresponding to person, we have the words someone, anyone, everyone, and no one. Corresponding to place we have somewhere, anywhere, everywhere and nowhere. It’s true that we use the word something in a general way to refer to the object of our thoughts, which might later be clarified to be a person or a place, but this is merely a convention. People, places and things are distinct categories of thought. Oct 21 '18 at 22:50
  • 1
    First, your source is not a good source sorry... Apart from that, that seems like opinion. So, if I see someone from afar and I say it is a thing, am I wrong? Am I always wrong, or is there a point when I am right? What does that depend on? I don't see anything wrong with calling a place a thing either. Like "NY is one thing, but Paris is so much better". Your saying that this is a misuse of the word thing? And so are places and people not part of everything? Are they nothing?
    – Akaisteph7
    Nov 6 '18 at 23:59
  • A noun is not a thing. A noun is a word which stands for a person, place, or thing - concrete or abstract. Sep 30 at 11:30
  • "Thing" can be used for people, either as a diminutive/endearment ("Pretty little thing") or as a negative/abuse. "Thing" can also refer to mental states and abstract concepts ("She has a thing about spiders", "The thing is I don't love you").
    – Stuart F
    Sep 30 at 14:47

Gases and liquids - stuff

solid objects - things

Of course there are exceptions to everything so I won't mention that thing in the corner, which happens to be a ghost.

  • The thing is I am not sure I agree. :)
    – Lambie
    Dec 13 '17 at 19:13
  • 1
    Is a raindrop a thing?
    – Chris H
    Dec 13 '17 at 19:21
  • What is raindrop composed of? Dec 13 '17 at 19:57
  • What are your sources?
    – Akaisteph7
    Dec 14 '17 at 15:35

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