If a sentence would say:

X has nearly as many Ys as Z.

I think it would be understood that it means that X has fewer Ys than Z has, but it is not that much fewer. I.e. X has almost as many as Z. When you put a negative in front of the sentence the meaning changes. The question is how much.

If we instead write:

X has not nearly as many Ys as Z.

I would think that this means that X does not have almost as many as Z (because the previous version meant that it did have almost as many, and all I did was add a "not" to the beginning). If a sentence states that X does not have almost as many as Z, I would think that it implies that X has somewhere near almost as many as Z. I use "somewhere near" in contradistinction to "nowhere near". That is to say, that "not nearly as many" does not mean the same thing as "nowhere near as many". The latter implies that the amounts of X and Z are extremely far apart, while the former implies that there is only a noticeable gap between them but they are not so extremely far apart.

However, when I googled the phrase, I found the Collins English Dictionary which says that in American "not nearly" means:

not at all; far from

And in British it means:

nowhere near; not at all

This seems strange and counter-intuitive to me. Is this correct, or was my above assessment correct? (Or some other option?)

The relevance of this question is whether I can make an inference from the following text:

Where was this place? It surely wasn’t Hogwarts; he had never seen a room like that here in the castle. Moreover, the crowd in the mysterious room at the bottom of the basin was comprised of adults, and Harry knew there were not nearly that many teachers at Hogwarts.

(Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire Chapter 30)

The text later tells us that the actual number of people in the room was at least 200. Can I infer from this that there must have been many teachers at Hogwarts (say, 50-100 as opposed to only a handful) because otherwise it should have said "nowhere near that many teachers" and not "not nearly that many teachers", or would both phrase choices actually mean the same thing?

(Note, I am not asking whether a particular author was aware of any differences in meaning, or was precise in word choice. I am asking whether objectively speaking the phrase "not nearly" carries a certain meaning/implication.)

  • 2
    Though well expressed and reasoned in many ways, there can be no definite answer. Why? Because you are trying trying to make precise a class of words that are, by their nature impressionistic. For example, words like 'a few', 'several', 'quite a few' have no agreed scale. I think of a few as about 3 and several as about 7 but many have different idea. The are by definition numerically undefined. 'Not nearly as many' means 'a lot fewer'. This leads to some language paradoxes, as you point out. But that is just how approximative language works. We use it when precision doesn't matter.
    – Tuffy
    Dec 28, 2021 at 9:51

2 Answers 2


In this case, not nearly means just that. The suggestion you make (that it should otherwise be nowhere near) is wrong only because the latter is a more emphatic way of saying it.

To put it another way, not nearly is a literally understated way of expressing nowhere near.


Harry Potter saw the crowd and he knew the number of Hogwarts teachers was FAR fewer than that.

That's my interpretation. In other words,

Harry Potter saw WAY too many adults there than the teacher headcount of Hogwarts.

So "not nearly as many" basically means "nowhere near" to me. English is my second language and I have used it every day for 30 years.

( This post is basically a comment on the existing answer by Will Crawford, but as of today, english.stackexchange.com doesn't let me add comments, so I decided to post add this answer.)

  • Welcome! This seems to echo another answer and might read as a comment. I encourage you to take the tour and see the help center for how to edit.
    – livresque
    Dec 26, 2021 at 21:19

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