Posted by: Jack Henry | February 28, 2019

Editor’s Corner: If Nothing Else

“If nothing else” is a remarkably difficult phrase to define, which might be why Merriam-Webster gives this uncharacteristically muddled definition:

  • if nothing else: used to say that something is probably the only thing that is true, acceptable, desirable, or certain because there are no better/worse possibilities

Some dictionaries adopt a narrower definition, such as the following (from the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English):

  • if nothing else: used to emphasize one good quality or feature that someone or something has, while suggesting that it might be the only good one


  • “Andrea’s work has always been very neat, if nothing else.” (Macmillan Dictionary)
  • “The food is cheap, if nothing else.” (Merriam-Webster)

For these sentences to make sense, the reader needs to recognize that “neat” and “cheap” are positive characteristics.

“If nothing else” can also mean the opposite (emphasizing the only bad quality that something has). For example, you could say, “I’m not buying that new sportscar. It’s too expensive, if nothing else.”

There are many other meanings the phrase can take, such as the following:

  • if you do nothing else (“If nothing else, you should send him a card.”)
  • if there’s no alternative (“If nothing else, there’s the party to go to this evening.”)
  • if they have nothing else in common (“Everybody knew each other, and had grown up in proximity, if nothing else.”)

If you’re not careful, you can make too big of a logical leap and end up confusing your reader.


  • “The sun is hot, if nothing else.”
  • “The Statue of Liberty is green, if nothing else.”
  • “That tree is leafy, if nothing else.”

When you’re writing a business email or a technical document, you don’t want to leave anything open to interpretation. Use more precise language.

About Editor’s Corner

Editor’s Corner keeps your communication skills sharp by providing information on grammar, punctuation, JHA style, and all things English. As editors, we spend our days reading, researching, and revising other people’s writing. We love to spend a few extra minutes to share what we learn with you and keep it fun while we’re doing it.

Did someone forward this email to you? Click here to subscribe.

Don’t want to get Editor’s Corner anymore? Click here to unsubscribe.

Do you have a question or an idea for Editor’s Corner? Send your suggestions or feedback to Kara, <a href="mailto:DBurcher, Jackie, or <a href="mailto:BRitter.

Ben Ritter | Technical Writing Supervisor | Symitar®
8985 Balboa Avenue | San Diego, CA 92123
619-682-3391 | or ext. 763391 |

Symitar Documentation Services

NOTICE: This electronic mail message and any files transmitted with it are intended
exclusively for the individual or entity to which it is addressed. The message,
together with any attachment, may contain confidential and/or privileged information.
Any unauthorized review, use, printing, saving, copying, disclosure or distribution
is strictly prohibited. If you have received this message in error, please
immediately advise the sender by reply email and delete all copies.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: